by Mary Shelley

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Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus
by Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin) Shelley

Letter 1

To Mrs. Saville, England

St. Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17--

You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement
of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.
I arrived here yesterday, and my first task is to assure my dear sister
of my welfare and increasing confidence in the success of my undertaking.

I am already far north of London, and as I walk in the streets
of Petersburgh, I feel a cold northern breeze play upon my cheeks,
which braces my nerves and fills me with delight. Do you understand
this feeling? This breeze, which has travelled from the regions
towards which I am advancing, gives me a foretaste of those icy climes.
Inspirited by this wind of promise, my daydreams become more fervent
and vivid. I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole
is the seat of frost and desolation; it ever presents itself
to my imagination as the region of beauty and delight. There,
the sun is forever visible, its broad disk just skirting the horizon
and diffusing a perpetual splendour. There--for with your leave,
my sister, I will put some trust in preceding navigators--
there snow and frost are banished; and, sailing over a calm sea,
we may be wafted to a land surpassing in wonders and in beauty
every region hitherto discovered on the habitable globe.
Its productions and features may be without example, as the phenomena
of the heavenly bodies undoubtedly are in those undiscovered solitudes.
What may not be expected in a country of eternal light?
I may there discover the wondrous power which attracts the needle
and may regulate a thousand celestial observations that require
only this voyage to render their seeming eccentricities consistent forever.
I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world
never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted
by the foot of man. These are my enticements, and they are sufficient
to conquer all fear of danger or death and to induce me to commence
this labourious voyage with the joy a child feels when he embarks
in a little boat, with his holiday mates, on an expedition of discovery
up his native river. But supposing all these conjectures to be false,
you cannot contest the inestimable benefit which I shall confer
on all mankind, to the last generation, by discovering a passage
near the pole to those countries, to reach which at present so many months
are requisite; or by ascertaining the secret of the magnet, which,
if at all possible, can only be effected by an undertaking such as mine.

These reflections have dispelled the agitation with which I began my letter,
and I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven,
for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind
as a steady purpose--a point on which the soul may fix
its intellectual eye. This expedition has been the favourite dream
of my early years. I have read with ardour the accounts
of the various voyages which have been made in the prospect
of arriving at the North Pacific Ocean through the seas
which surround the pole. You may remember that a history
of all the voyages made for purposes of discovery composed the whole
of our good Uncle Thomas' library. My education was neglected,
yet I was passionately fond of reading. These volumes were my study
day and night, and my familiarity with them increased that regret
which I had felt, as a child, on learning that my father's dying injunction
had forbidden my uncle to allow me to embark in a seafaring life.

These visions faded when I perused, for the first time, those poets
whose effusions entranced my soul and lifted it to heaven. I also became
a poet and for one year lived in a paradise of my own creation;
I imagined that I also might obtain a niche in the temple
where the names of Homer and Shakespeare are consecrated.
You are well acquainted with my failure and how heavily
I bore the disappointment. But just at that time I inherited
the fortune of my cousin, and my thoughts were turned
into the channel of their earlier bent.