The novel begins in a frame narrative: Robert Walton, the captain of a ship, recounts his adventures through a series of letters to his sister back in England. Walton encounters Victor Frankenstein in the seas near the North Pole and is told his story, and the major part of the novel consists of Frankenstein's narration of his strange adventures.
Victor tells Walton of his early life in Geneva and his close relationships with his cousin, Elizabeth Lavenza, who had come to live with his family when her mother died, and his friend Henry Clerval. Victor eventually goes to the university at Ingolstadt and begins to study natural philosophy and chemistry. During this time, he becomes consumed by the desire to discover the secret of life and finally succeeds. He fashions a creature out of old body parts and animates it one night. However, the creature appears so horrible that he runs away, allowing the creature to escape.
Shortly afterwards, Victor is preparing to return to Geneva when he receives a letter from his father telling him that his youngest brother, William, has been murdered.
Victor hurries home and, on the way, sees the monster in the woods and becomes convinced that the creature murdered William. He arrives home to find that Justine Moritz, a girl who had lived for some time in the Frankenstein household, has been accused of the murder. She is tried, condemned, and executed, despite her assertions of innocence, and Victor becomes despondent a...