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Should "nerve" or "nerves" be used in the modern version of the following sentence? Could the "nerves" in the passage refer to determination or will? Or does it refer to a mass of thread-like tissue in the body?

I am already far north of London, and as I walk in the streets of Petersburgh, I feel a cold northern breeze play upon my cheeks, which braces my nerves and fills me with delight. (From Frankenstein)

I'd appreciate your help.

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This is definitely not referring to the speaker's actual nervous system.

Looking at the context, the phrase "..., which braces my nerves and fills me with delight." is referring to a cold northern breeze. Because the nervous system is by your definition "in the body", and a light breeze is probably not pulverizing the speaker's body, it is safe to assume that the author is writing metaphorically.

In this case, the speaker uses nerves idiomatically to mean courage or confidence. With this in mind, to brace another's nerve(s) would mean to inspire courage in another or to cause another to be more confident. You may also see to brace/steel one's own nerve(s), meaning to prepare oneself for a stressful situation, such as a job interview.

As to your first question, this sentence is just fine in modern English. I don't think it really matters whether you use nerve or nerves, but I suppose nerve may be slightly less ambiguous.

In essence: a) Either is fine, b) yes, and c) no.

Hope this helps!

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