Frankenstein begins with a series of four letters from Robert Walton to his sister, Margaret Saville. The first letter is written on December 11 from St. Petersburg, Russia, sometime in the eighteenth century. Walton is about to set out on a journey at sea to reach the North Pole, which he considers a region of warmth, "eternal light," and unparalleled beauty.
Walton's description of the North Pole reads like a Romantic poem full of beautiful images of nature, and establishes that nature and its beauty will play a major role in the novel.
Walton's purpose in venturing to the North Pole is twofold: to discover a northern passage to the countries on the other side of the world; and to determine the origin of the North Pole's magnetism. Walton says he once hoped to become a famous poet, but failed. Yet he has kept his childhood dream of reaching the North Pole. He adds that he could have lived his life in wealth and ease, but did not. For this reason, he feels that he deserves to "accomplish some great purpose."
Ambition motivates Walton, but it is an ambition that stems from an arrogant sense of entitlement. He feels that he deserves to make his mark on history. Yet Walton's ambition also emerges from a childhood dream. This combination of ambition and innocence is also, as it will be made clear, what motivated Frankenstein.
Walton plans to rent a ship, hire a crew, and depart from northern Russia in June, unsure of when or if he will ever return.
Walton is willing to give up his life to achieve his ambitions.