Rescued from an icefloe in the Arctic Ocean (Letter 4.2), Frankenstein narrates the complete novel to Robert Walton. Born in Geneva, Victor is educated at the University of Ingolstadt in chemistry. There his researches bring him to discover the secret of life, and he constructs and animates a giant being (1.3.5 and 1.4.1). Appalled by his ugliness, Victor flees, and upon returning to his lodgings finds the Creature gone. He suffers a nervous collapse and is nursed back to health over several months by Clerval, who has also come to the university to study.
A year-and-a-half pass, when Victor receives a letter from his father announcing the death of his youngest sibling, William, and summoning him home. On the way he encounters his Creature on the outskirts of Geneva (1.6.7) and realizes that he has been agent of William's death. Upon his arrival, however, he is greeted with news of the arrest of Justine Moritz for the deed. Justine is tried and, convicted on circumstantial evidence, is executed. Recognizing his responsibility, Victor sinks into a deep depression.
Hoping to recover the family's former sense of well-being, Alphonse proposes a trip to the valley of Chamounix beneath Mt. Blanc. (In the 1831 edition Victor undertakes this tour by himself.) Upon the glacier known as the Mer de Glace, Victor is suddenly encountered by his Creature (2.2.3) and forced to listen to the story of his existence to this point, a narration that takes up the central third of the novel. The Creature appeals to Victor to create a mate for him, and Victor reluctantly promises to do so.
Returning to Geneva, Victor asks of his father that his nuptials with Elizabeth be postponed until he has had a chance to travel. His real purpose for the trip he undertakes to England is to gain further knowledge before creating a second being. Clerval accompanies him on this trip, but they part in Scotland, and Victor settles in the remote Orkney Islands and sets to work. He is racked with second thoughts, and, upon discovering the Creature observing his efforts, he destroys the being he was creating. The Creature vows revenge. Victor sets off for the Scottish mainland, but a strong wind carries his boat to the northern coast of Ireland, where he is arrested for a murder just committed, that of his friend Clerval. This event precipitates a second collapse of health, and he is brought back to health after the arrival of his father.
Acquitted as having arrived after Clerval's death, Victor returns to Geneva to marry Elizabeth. On the night of their marriage the Creature's vow that he would be with Victor on this night translates into the murder of his bride. Alphonse suffers a fatal stroke, and Victor sets off to enact his own revenge on the Creature, travelling first down to Marseilles, then across the Mediterranean Sea into Russia and across its vast expanse onto the frozen Arctic Ocean. There, after a break-up of the ice pack, Victor found himself stranded and incapable of further pursuit, but has been rescued by Walton. When Walton, under threat of a mutiny, determines to abandon his expedition and return to England, the exhausted and now purposeless Victor dies (Walton 11). The Creature returns to the ship, where Walton encounters him lamenting his creator's death.