Summary: Chapter 1
The stranger, who the reader soon learns is Victor Frankenstein, begins his narration. He starts with his family background, birth, and early childhood, telling Walton about his father, Alphonse, and his mother, Caroline. Alphonse became Caroline’s protector when her father, Alphonse’s longtime friend Beaufort, died in poverty. They married two years later, and Victor was born soon after.
Frankenstein then describes how his childhood companion, Elizabeth Lavenza, entered his family. At this point in the narrative, the original (1818) and revised (1831) versions of Frankenstein diverge. In the original version, Elizabeth is Victor’s cousin, the daughter of Alphonse’s sister; when Victor is four years old, Elizabeth’s mother dies and Elizabeth is adopted into the Frankenstein family. In the revised version, Elizabeth is discovered by Caroline, on a trip to Italy, when Victor is about five years old. While visiting a poor Italian family, Caroline notices a beautiful blonde girl among the dark-haired Italian children; upon discovering that Elizabeth is the orphaned daughter of a Milanese nobleman and a German woman and that the Italian family can barely afford to feed her, Caroline adopts Elizabeth and brings her back to Geneva. Victor’s mother decides at the moment of the adoption that Elizabeth and Victor should someday marry.
Summary: Chapter 2
Elizabeth and Victor grow up together as best friends. Victor’s friendship with Henry Clerval, a schoolmate and only child, flourishes as well, and he spends his childhood happily surrounded by this close domestic circle. As a teenager, Victor becomes increasingly fascinated by the mysteries of the natural world. He chances upon a book by Cornelius Agrippa, a sixteenth-century scholar of the occult sciences, and becomes interested in natural philosophy. He studies the outdated findings of the alchemists Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Albertus Magnus with enthusiasm. He witnesses the destructive power of nature when, during a raging storm, lightning destroys a tree near his house. A modern natural philosopher accompanying the Frankenstein family explains to Victor the workings of electricity, making the ideas of the alchemists seem outdated and worthless. (In the 1818 version, a demonstration of electricity by his father convinces Victor of the alchemists’ mistakenness.)
Analysis: Chapters 1–2
The picture that Victor draws of his childhood is an idyllic one. Though loss abounds—the poverty of Beaufort and the orphaning of Elizabeth, for instance—it is always quickly alleviated by the presence of a close, loving family. Nonetheless, the reader senses, even in these early passages, that the stability and comfort of family are about to be exploded. Shining through Victor’s narration of a joyful childhood and an eccentric adolescence is a glimmer of the great tragedy that will soon overtake him.
Women in Frankenstein fit into few roles: the loving, sacrificial mother; the innocent, sensitive child; and the concerned, confused, abandoned lover. Throughout the novel, they are universally passive, rising only at the most extreme moments to demand action from the men around them. The language Victor uses to describe the relationship between his mother and father supports this image of women’s passivity: in reference to his mother, he says that his father “came as a protecting spirit to the poor girl, who committed herself to his care.” Elizabeth, Justine Moritz, and Caroline Beaufort all fit into this mold of the passive woman.Various metanarrative comments (i.e., remarks that pertain not to the content of the narrative but rather to the telling of the narrative) remind the reader of the fact that Victor’s narrative is contained within Walton’s. Victor interrupts his story to relate how Elizabeth became a part of his family, prefacing the digression with the comment, “But before I continue my narrative, I must record an incident.” Such guiding statements structure Victor’s narrative and remind the reader that Victor is telling his story to a specific audience—Walton.
Foreshadowing is ubiquitous in these chapters and, in fact, throughout the novel. Even Walton’s letters prepare the way for the tragic events that Victor will recount. Victor constantly alludes to his imminent doom; for example, he calls his interest in natural philosophy “the genius that has regulated my fate” and “the fatal impulse that led to my ruin.” Victor’s narrative is rife with nostalgia for a happier time; he dwells on the fuzzy memories of his blissful childhood with Elizabeth, his father and mother, and Henry Clerval. But even in the midst of these tranquil childhood recollections, he cannot ignore the signs of the tragedy that lies in his imminent future; he sees that each event, such as the death of his mother, is nothing but “an omen, as it were, of [his] future misery.”
An Essay on the Principle of PopulationIntroduction
A Note on the Text
AN ESSAY ON THE PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION
A SUMMARY VIEW OF THE PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION
Suggestions for Further Reading
Question stated – Little prospect of a determination of it, from the enmity of the opposing parties – The principal argument against the perfectibility of man and of society has never been fairly answered – Nature of the difficulty arising from population – Outline of the principal argument of the Essay.
The different ratios in which population and food increase – The necessary effects of these different ratios of increase – Oscillation produced by them in the condition of the lower classes of society – Reasons why this oscillation has not been so much observed as might be expected – Three propositions on which the general argument of the Essay depends – The different states in which mankind have been known to exist proposed to be examined with reference to these three propositions.
The savage or hunter state shortly reviewed – the shepherd state, or the tribes of barbarians that overran the Roman Empire – The superiority of the power of population to the means of subsistence – the cause of the great tide of Northern Emigration.
State of civilized nations – Probability that Europe is much more populous now than in the time of Julius Caesar – Best criterion of population – Probable error of Hume in one of the criterions that he proposes as assisting in an estimate of population – Slow increase of population at present in most of the states of Europe – The two principal checks to population – The first, or preventive check examined with regard to England.
The second, or positive check to population examined, in England – The true cause why the immense sum collected in England for the poor does not better their condition – The powerful tendency of the poor laws to defeat their own purpose – Palliative of the distresses of the poor proposed – The absolute impossibility, from the fixed laws of our nature, that the pressure of want can ever be completely removed from the lower classes of society – All the checks to population may be resolved into misery or vice.
New colonies – Reasons of their rapid increase – North American Colonies – Extraordinary instance of increase in the back settlements – Rapidity with which even old states recover the ravages of war, pestilence, famine, or the convulsions of nature.
A probable cause of epidemics – Extracts from Mr. Suessmilch’s tables – Periodical returns of sickly seasons to be expected in certain cases – Proportion of births to burials for short periods in any country an inadequate criterion of the real average increase of population – Great frugality of living one of the causes of the famines of China and Indostan – Evil tendency of one of the clauses in Mr. Pitt’s Poor Bill – Only one proper way of encouraging population – Causes of the happiness of nations – Famine, the last and most dreadful mode by which nature represses a redundant population – The three propositions considered as established.
Mr. Wallace – Error of supposing that the difficulty arising from population is at a great distance – Mr. Condorcet’s sketch of the progress of the human mind – Period when the oscillation, mentioned by Mr. Condorcet, ought to be applied to the human race.
Mr. Condorcet’s conjecture concerning the organic perfectibility of man, and the indefinite prolongation of human life – Fallacy of the argument, which infers an unlimited progress from a partial improvement, the limit of which cannot be ascertained, illustrated in the breeding of animals, and the cultivation of plants.
Mr. Godwin’s system of equality – Error of attributing all the vices of mankind to human institutions – Mr. Godwin’s first answer to the difficulty arising from population totally insufficient – Mr. Godwin’s beautiful system of equality supposed to be realized – Its utter destruction simply from the principle of population in so short a time as thirty years.
Mr. Godwin’s conjecture concerning the future extinction of the passion between the sexes – Little apparent grounds for such a conjecture – Passion of love not inconsistent either with reason or virtue.
Mr. Godwin’s conjecture concerning the indefinite prolongation of human life – Improper reference drawn from the effects of mental stimulants on the human frame, illustrated in various instances – Conjectures not founded on any indications in the past, not to be considered as philosophical conjectures – Mr. Godwin’s and Mr. Condorcet’s conjecture respecting the approach of man towards immortality on earth, a curious instance of the inconsistency of scepticism.
Error of Mr. Godwin in considering man too much in the light of a being merely rational – In the compound being, man, the passions will always act as disturbing forces in the decisions of the understanding – Reasonings of Mr. Godwin on the subject of coercion – Some truths of a nature not to be communicated from one man to another.
Mr. Godwin’s five propositions respecting political truth, on which his whole work hinges, not established – Reasons we have for supposing, from the distress occasioned by the principle of population, that the vices and moral weakness of man can never be wholly eradicated – Perfectibility, in the sense that Mr. Godwin uses the term, not applicable to man – Nature of the real perfectibility of man illustrated.
Models too perfect may sometimes rather impede than promote improvement – Mr. Godwin’s essay on “Avarice and Profusion” – Impossibility of dividing the necessary labour of a society amicably among all – Invectives against labour may produce present evil, with little or no chance of producing future good – An accession to the mass of agricultural labour must always be an advantage to the labourer.
Probable error of Dr. Adam Smith in representing every increase of the revenue or stock of a society as an increase in the funds for the maintenance of labour – Instances where an increase of wealth can have no tendency to better the condition of the labouring poor – England has increased in riches without a proportional increase in the funds for the maintenance of labour – The state of the poor in China would not be improved by an increase of wealth from manufactures.
Question of the proper definition of the wealth of a state – Reason given by the French economists for considering all manufacturers as unproductive labourers, not the true reason – The labour of artificers and manufacturers sufficiently productive to individuals, though not to the state – A remarkable passage in Dr. Price’s two volumes of Observations – Error of Dr. Price in attributin the happiness and rapid population of America, chiefly, to its peculiar state of civilization – No advantage can be expected from shutting our eyes to the difficulties in the way to the improvement of society.
The constant pressure of distress on man, from the principle of population, seems to direct our hopes to the future – State of trial inconsistent with our ideas for the foreknowledge of God – The world, probably, a mighty process for awakening matter into mind – Theory of the formulation of mind – Excitements from wants of the body – Excitements from the operation of general laws – Excitements from the difficulties of life arising from the principle of population.
The sorrows of life necessary to soften and humanize the heart – The excitements of social sympathy often produce characters of a higher order than the mere possessors of talents – More evil probably necessary to the production of moral excellence – Excitements from intellectual wants continually kept up by the infinite variety of nature, and the obscurity that involves metaphysical subjects – The difficulties in Revelation to be accounted for upon this principle – The degree of evidence which the scriptures contain, probably, best suited to the improvement of the human faculties, and the moral amelioration of mankind – The idea that mind is created by excitements seems to account for the existence of natural and moral evil.