“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils…”
– Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 1816
The young man sat hunched over his work, occasionally lifting his head and darting about the room in a flurry of activity. The workshop had been brightly lit when darkness first fell, but the illumination of the all but extinguished candles had dwindled and the young doctor was too preoccupied to tend to such tedious practicalities. His project and the focus of his mania lay dormant on the table. Inanimate for the moment, a state of affairs the young man was hoping to rectify.
There was no divine clap of thunder, no maniacal laugh, no subservient assistant, just a young doctor obsessively and frantically tending to his work, alone. He was about to reach the culmination of his efforts, the proof of concept, a concept so ground-breaking. An act of pure creation, an act that would raise man to the realm of God.
The cold pallid eyelids fluttered gently opening for the first time, the pupils shrank, the dead eyes focused sharply in on its surroundings, suddenly the beast realized it’s own consciousness. It’s muscles twitched, his fingers curled, his sutured skin stretched and contorted as he moved. The young doctor had very deftly and brilliantly applied his keen surgical skills to the task but instead of a work of beauty he had made a being so hideous he could not bear to look at it. The doctor stood aghast, struck with terror, he looked almost as pale as his creature, what had he unleashed?
The beast crawled at first, dragging his semi limp form across the ground, then as he gained awareness of his extremities and their potential he rose and ambled awkwardly towards the doctor, he walked with the uncertainty of a newborn foal, vulnerable and innocent despite his grotesque appearance. Reaching out for his creator, he could not know how vain his search for affection would be. The doctor shrunk away in horror, as his creation opened his wretched mouth and letting out an agonised wail.
She woke with a start, looking about her to be sure that her subconscious had not conjured the monster into being. She saw nothing of the kind, the only spectre to be seen was the very embodiment of self centeredness that was sprawled across the bed. The pretend husband she adored, but whose indifference in the face of her pain was devastating, she sighed, wiping away the few stray tears trickling down her cheek. The night was still in it’s infancy and faced with the grim prospect of spending the hours next to the apathetic form peacefully snoring beside her, she sat up, carefully patting the dresser in search of the candlestick and placing her feet on the gentle ripples of the hardwood floor. The rain continued to beat solidly against the glass panes. Reaching out again she sought out the flimsy, worn matchbox that had travelled to Lake Geneva with them. Striking the match and shielding the flame from any subtle breeze. Armed with the dim glow of the candle she made her way into the hallway and down to the tiny, temporary nursery.
Despite enlisting the help of a local girl she sought to reassure herself of the wellbeing of her little boy who was recovering well despite the unseasonable cold. Like his father the little boy slept peacefully, utterly unaware of her anguish and fear. She lightly placed her hand upon his chest feeling his little chest rise and fall.
Earlier that week, in the evening, bored and listless from yet another day of dark and idleness, the occupants of the house were surprised when the dashing romantic, inspired by his own genius burst through the door. The excited and smug smirk that played across Byron’s face seemed out of place in the glum tedium that had been the unending sunless summer. He proceeded to enthusiastically read from a book of ghost stories, but his enthusiasm dwindled as he realised that his brilliant idea was falling short of delighting his audience. After blaming his source material he threw down the book and slumped into a chair, raising the attention, momentarily of the lazy hound that had settled at the foot of the chair.
“What a lot of rot! I could write a better ghostly tale than that, hell Polodory here, wet as he is, could do better”
He gestured to his long suffering doctor, who looked up pitifully from his current occupation, pretending not to be gazing at Mary. She was painfully aware of his attentions, she often shifted awkwardly under the intensity of his gaze, praying that his attentions be drawn elsewhere, perhaps to the neglected note book in his lap that he barely feigned writing in when caught staring by the others. Claire, Mary’s half sister, leant against the mantle, trying vainly to catch the eye of the young Lord who was deliberately avoiding acknowledging her. The dashing and flighty young poet had made the mistake of encouraging her in London and now here she was having attached herself to Mary and Percy in order to get closer to him. Mary had trouble understanding the fuss that was made over Byron; he was a dear friend but only a fool would become romantically entangled with him. Everyone fawned over him, even as she sat next to him, elbow to elbow, Percy was utterly bewitched by his presence. Despite finding her husband’s infatuation with Byron vaguely annoying, the doctor’s attentions unnerving and her half sister’s impositions barely tolerable, she was glad they had come. The grey, ashy summer by the lake was not what she had in mind, but it was better than sitting idle in London, wallowing in her grief.
“We should all write the most ghastly story we can and see whose is best!” proposed Byron, an idea that was met with enthusiasm by more than one of the party, but the prospect filled Mary with dread. The poets were assured success, they always were. Even when they were dissatisfied with their own work and moped around like intolerable children, there was always someone to praise their genius. She had always wrote, how could she not as immersed in literature as she was, but her aspirations were always dragged back to earth by the weighty legacy of her mother and father.
She sat, distracted, trying desperately to be attentive to the presentations of the others. These were not their best work but it was still far in excess of her own failure to contribute. The mortifying lack of progress in her writing constantly vexed her.
She shook herself awake again, she still stood by the little bassinet, she must have drifted off. This was familiar to her as she hadn’t experienced a single solid night’s sleep since the loss of her first baby and now she was fearing that little William would not make it through this year without summer. Even her mother managed to deliver a child safely into the world, it killed her, but she did it, and now Mary, the daughter of literary royalty could not nurture a child or write anything more than an extensive collection of love-struck letters. The value placed on her existence by the process of exchanging her mother’s life, who had given so much to the world and meant so much to so many, for her own had placed a great burden on her shoulders, how was she ever going to be able to do something worthy of this exchange?
Even the horrifying man in her dream managed creation, and what hell did he unleash? What hell… what creation… she paused. Struck for a moment by a lingering thought. She became fixed on her purpose. She turned making her way back down the hallway, trying desperately not to let her rapid footsteps betray her excitement, willing the floorboards not to creak and her nightgown not to shuffle.
Padding down the hallway and then cautiously creeping into the room she headed for the writing desk across from the room where Percy laid.
Settling down at the slightly wonky Writing desk she decided to try to fill a page, just one page for the story of the doctor and the creature. If it was terrible she could burn it and it would never have to see the light of day, or more importantly the scrutiny of her friends. She did not invest much hope in this endeavour. At least she would have something to show her companions if nothing else. She would at the very least show it to Percy, he was determined to find her genius, he expected great things from her, great lofty things that she felt unable to provide. He was both her harshest critic and greatest advocate. They were allies, they were radicals, swept up in a youthful haze of exuberance and ideology. Death, tragedy and scandal had already marred their imperfect union, but surely the universe would not have more harm to inflict on their little family. She looked back to the paper lying in front of her, dipped her nib in the ink and began industriously fill page after page until the light of dawn creeped the through the half drawn curtains.
The rain pelted down on the window, a window that did not look out over the serenity of Lake Geneva, rather the grim bustle of the London streetscape. The occupants of the lake house had left many years ago, most of them had died not long after that dark, cold year. Even little William had succumbed to his sickly nature. Mary sat quietly eternally grieving her children, husband and friends. She held a scrappy, dishevelled manuscript. Carefully opening the pages she gazed upon the scrawled text, she didn’t read it, she didn’t need to, she knew every word, every letter, every tiny blot of ink. The careworn pages were yellowing and the corners were curled and torn.
A story stitched together, a story with a life all its own.
She had lovingly assembled this book, worked tirelessly and pursued its publication. Her own handwriting lined the pages ranging from frantic to slow and careful. She tenderly touched the words written by another hand, Percy, he had a hand in all her creations, but the he would leave her to face the reality of unleashing them on the world.
Rejected and bewildered the creature roamed the earth purposeless and confused. He did not know what to do with the heavy weight of his existence. He had long since seen the demise of his wretched unfeeling creator, spurred on by causing his destruction he was adrift in the world. Alone. What use was an existence without a purpose? What use was a creature without a peer of any kind? A creature standing on an ending plain of ice. Cold and alone.