The setting of the novel ranges all over Europe, emphasizing places with which Shelley herself was familiar: Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France, England, Scotland, Ireland, and even the Arctic. The tale begins and ends in the Arctic with the explorer Robert Walton seeking a northwest passage. On his journey he first meets Victor Frankenstein and then the monster himself. The arctic atmosphere itself is a fitting symbol for the scientific enterprise on which Frankenstein has embarked and Walton is embarking. The landscape is barren and white: it is human beings who turn the landscape and scientific creation into colorful creation or black horror.
As Dr. Frankenstein lies dying, he recounts his history to Walton. When he speaks of his home in Geneva by a blue lake and snowy mountains, his description is filled with warmth, light, and love. At age seventeen Frankenstein became a student at the University of Ingolstadt, in upper Bavaria, where he later creates his monster.
Frankenstein recoils from his creation, and the monster flees. The rest of the novel follows the theme of pursuit and thus ranges over Europe. Frankenstein has a nervous breakdown and returns to the peacefulness of home. To cure his despair, he wanders on one occasion to the valley of Chamounix. Here, he meets the monster again. Shelley’s descriptive powers heighten whenever she presents the monster against a background of sublime and terrifying nature. Frankenstein is mountain climbing across a “troubled sea” of ice (prophetic of the setting at the end of the novel) when the monster bounds toward him over the ice crevices.
As the monster tells of his adventures since his creation, the scene shifts to Germany and the humble cottage of the De Laceys, whom the monster has watched to learn how people act and talk. After promising to make a mate for the monster, Frankenstein plans a trip to England with his friend Clerval. On their way they travel leisurely on the Rhine. From London they travel north to Edinburgh, where they separate. All the time the monster has been following them. Frankenstein goes to a remote Orkney Island to create his female monster. In desolate surroundings the monster again appears and vows revenge when Frankenstein destroys the female creature.
Frankenstein goes sailing to get rid of the female body parts, and his boat is blown off course to Ireland. There he is accused of his friend Clerval’s murder and is thrown into prison, where he again has a mental collapse. Released into his father’s custody, he returns to Geneva, but this time the powers of home fail to heal. The monster takes his complete revenge, and Frankenstein vows to follow him until he can rid the world of the fiend he has created. The pursued becomes the pursuer.