by Gary Inbinder
At the time she wrote Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was involved in scandal, and the object of gossip and ridicule. At sixteen she had eloped to the continent with the then married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her teen-aged half-sister, Jane Claire Clairmont, joined them. Claire may have also been intimate with Shelley, and she later became Lord Byron’s mistress, bearing him a daughter whom Byron had placed in an orphanage where the girl, Allegra, died at age five.
At seventeen, Mary gave premature birth to an unnamed daughter who died within days. The following year, Mary’s other stepsister, Fanny Imlay, killed herself, and she too may have had an affair with Shelley. That same year, Shelley’s pregnant wife, Harriet, committed suicide by jumping from a bridge over the Serpentine in Hyde Park.
Mary was the daughter of famous parents. Her mother, who died shortly after giving birth, author and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, is considered among the first modern feminists. Mary Wollstonecraft’s husband, William Godwin, was a noted radical author and philosopher. Both of Mary Shelley’s parents advocated free love and questioned traditional marriage. Therefore, Mary was shocked, confused and deeply hurt when her father refused to speak to her for two years, until after the death of Shelley’s wife and Mary and Percy’s subsequent marriage. At the time she wrote Frankenstein, young Mary may have identified with her creature, despised and abandoned by its creator. And there is also evidence from her journals that she identified with pariahs she encountered in her reading, like Milton’s Satan and Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner.
In my re-imagined sequel, Confessions of the Creature, Frankenstein’s monster narrates his heroic quest for love and honor while Napoleon rages across Europe. In the Arctic waters of the Barents Sea, the creature has taken the ultimate revenge on his creator, Frankenstein. He travels south to a forest outside the town of Yaroslavl, where a chance meeting with a witch who sees through his hideous exterior to his damaged spirit gives him the opportunity to overcome what he is, and perhaps become who he was meant to be.
Transformed by witchcraft into a normal looking man, but retaining his superhuman strength, the creature journeys to Moscow, where he becomes the protégé of the wealthy natural philosopher Baron Suvorin, and the lover of Suvorin's daughter, Sabrina Pavlovna. Taking the name Viktor Suvorin, the creature wins acclaim as a military hero.
An honored hero, happy with his family, Viktor faces a final challenge to his hard won humanity when tragedy strikes. Pursuit of an enemy returns Viktor to the Arctic, scene of his final struggle with his creator. There, on a frozen sea under the shimmering Northern Lights, the creature must confront the truth about himself and the meaning of his creation and his life.
There has been much speculation over the years concerning Mary Shelley’s identification with her creature. In my novel, a fictionalized Mary confronts the transformed monster who may have been her alter ego. And, like my character Viktor, Mary’s own life was transformed by the tragic realities of life, most notably the deaths of her husband and their son William. In her preface to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, she wrote nostalgically of the time of the novel’s creation, when both Percy and William were still living: “And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words which found no true echo in my heart.”
I think her reference to the “true echo” of death and grief is telling. There was certainly “death and grief” in Mary Shelley’s life prior to the time she wrote Frankenstein, but the two greatest blows of misfortune were yet to come.