Mary Shelley, Frankenstein: Ch. 2

[+] | [-] | reset

Chapter 2

We were brought up together; there was not quite a year difference in our ages. I need not say that we were strangers to any species of disunion or dispute. Harmony was the soul of our companionship, and the diversity and contrast that subsisted in our characters drew us nearer together. Elizabeth was of a calmer and more concentrated disposition; but, with all my ardour, I was capable of a more intense application and was more deeply smitten with the thirst for knowledge. She busied herself with following the aerialw creations of the poets; and in the majestic and wondrous scenes which surrounded our Swiss home —the sublimed shapes of the mountains, the changes of the seasons, tempest and calm, the silence of winter, and the life and turbulence of our Alpine summers—she found ample scope for admiration and delight. While my companion contemplated with a serious and satisfied spirit the magnificent appearances of things, I delighted in investigating their causes. The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember.

On the birth of a second son, my junior by seven years, my parents gave up entirely their wandering life and fixed themselves in their native country. We possessed a house in Geneva, and a campagnew on Belrive, the eastern shore of the lake, at the distance of rather more than a leaguew from the city. We resided principally in the latter, and the lives of my parents were passed in considerable seclusion. It was my temper to avoid a crowd and to attach myself fervently to a few. I was indifferent, therefore, to my school-fellows in general; but I united myself in the bonds of the closest friendship to one among them. Henry Clervald was the son of a merchant of Geneva. He was a boy of singular talent and fancy. He loved enterprise, hardship, and even danger for its own sake. He was deeply read in books of chivalry and romanceh. He composed heroic songs and began to write many a tale of enchantment and knightly adventure. He tried to make us act plays and to enter into masquerades, in which the characters were drawn from the heroes of Roncesvallesh, of the Round Table of King Arthur, and the chivalrous train who shed their blood to redeem the holy sepulchre from the hands of the infidels.

No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself. My parents were possessed by the very spirit of kindness and indulgence. We felt that they were not the tyrants to rule our lot according to their caprice, but the agents and creators of all the many delights which we enjoyed. When I mingled with other families I distinctly discerned how peculiarly fortunate my lot was, and gratitude assisted the development of filial love.

My temper was sometimes violent, and my passions vehement;d but by some law in my temperaturew they were turned not towards childish pursuits but to an eager desire to learn, and not to learn all things indiscriminately. I confess that neither the structure of languages, nor the code of governments, nor the politics of various states possessed attractions for me. It was the secrets of heaven and earthd that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysicalw, or in its highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.

X [w] aerial

Ethereal, insubstantial. A favorite word of Percy Shelley and related to Ariel of The Tempest, Prospero's mischievous spirit-servant. 

X [d] sublime


A quasi-technical term that belongs with "beautiful" and "picturesque" (Search) to form a triptych at the heart of 18th- and 19th-century aesthetic theory. Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant, and a great many other distinguished theorists wrote on the subject of the Sublime and the Beautiful. …

(read more)

X [w] campagne

Country house.

X [w] league

Roughly three miles.

X [d] Clerval

Clerval's name connotes in French clerc, a scholar or learned person.

X [h] books of chivalry and romance

Writing & Reading

Tales (les romans, the origin of the word "romantic"of chivalric or courtly behavior, such as Malory's Morte d'Arthur or Spenser's The Faerie Queen. 

X [h] Roncesvalles

Writing & Reading

A pass in northern Spain where Roland of The Song of Roland (c. 1150) died in 778 through treachery while defending the rear guard of Charlemagne's army. 

X [d] My temper was sometimes violent, and my passi…

Writing & Reading

This would perfectly describe Percy Shelley, who in his pursuit of poetry and in his intellectual interests in chemistry, biology, magnetism, and electricity, is a benign version of Frankenstein.

X [w] temperature


Measure or proportion; mix of the four humors that governs the temperament.

X [d] secrets of heaven and earth

Writing & Reading

Is Frankenstein doing something wrong in addition to something revolting? Is he violating some taboo that deepens our revulsion?

For many he may be. In just the prior sentence he denies any interest in "the structure of languages" but immediately after speaks of penetrating the secrets of heaven and earth. Some readers will associate the two and recall the Tower of Babel and the co…

(read more)

X [w] metaphysical

Non-physical causes, or the causes behind the physical phenomena; more generally, philosophical.