So begins Victor’s tale, which he starts just before his own birth.
His father, Alphonse Frankenstein, was a hard-working public figure who did not marry until late in life.
Alphonse had a close friend in a Mr. Beaufort, who had moved from Geneva to
Lucerne in order to seek refuge from poverty and a damaged reputation. Alphonse is determined to help his friend start a new life.
However, Beaufort’s health soon failed and he died leaving his daughter Caroline impoverished. With pity and a feeling of obligation to his friend, Alphonse decides to care for Caroline and eventually they become husband and wife, despite a large age gap. They moved to Italy to enjoy a better climate, and Victor was born and much spoiled by the doting parents.
When Victor was 5, Caroline and Alphonse adopt a little girl called
Elizabeth from a very poor family who were unable to provide for her adequately, and Elizabeth was adopted in order to be a playmate and cousin for Victor.
The reader may think this is a somewhat complex arrangement, but it mirrors
in many respects, Mary Shelley’s own childhood. Shelley came from a family of half-brothers and sisters, and a stepmother. There are further similarities in that Mary’s mother and Victor’s share the same
interest of visiting the poor. Also, the mothers of both Mary and Elizabeth died during childbirth.
The reader is clear that Elizabeth is not just a mere orphan, but another child that the Frankenstein’s
had wanted of their own, but this had not been possible.