I read and really enjoyed, Mister Creecher by Chris Preistley last year. So it’s a huge pleasure today to welcome Chris to Bart’s Bookshelf, as part of his blog tour to promote the paperback release of the book. Make sure you keep reading after Chris’ post to find out how to win a copy for yourself!
There are so many misconceptions about Frankenstein. It is a book that everyone knows and yet few people seem to have actually read. There are many screen adaptations and yet almost none of them are true to their source. Everyone recognises an image of Frankenstein when they see it – but what they are recognising is not Frankenstein at all, but his creature. So who – or what – was the ‘real’ Frankenstein?
Well, firstly, the Victor Frankenstein of Mary Shelley’s novel was not a doctor. There is no ‘Doctor Frankenstein’ other than in the movies. Or Baron Frankenstein for that matter. He was not a surgeon. He was not a medical student of any kind. Mary describes him as a’student of the unhallowed arts’. His passion was alchemy and his discovery of science at university was only of interest in so far as it could further his aim of finding the secret of life itself.
Frankenstein travels to England in his search for greater knowledge because he knew, as Mary did, that England was at the forefront in scientific and medical innovation at the beginning of the nineteenth century. And it is in England that my book, Mister Creecher, imagines a meeting between Frankenstein’s monster and a teenage thief called Billy.
The Romantics were more interested in science than one might at first think. Shelley was fascinated by electricity and had experimented with voltaic batteries. He and Byron were discussing galvanism and speculating about the possibilities of using electricity to spark life into a corpse on the night Mary had her nightmare.
In fact, if there is a ‘real’ Victor Frankenstein, it is probably Mary’s highly-strung and excitable husband, the radical poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
As for the creature, he is not a shuffling mute, but a huge and powerful Romantic anti-hero – more Byron than zombie. He is articulate and complex – more complex than any other character in the novel. He is tall with long black hair. The horror of his appearance come from it’s lifelessness, his pale, shrivelled skin, his watery eyes, his white teeth set between thin black lips.
It is almost possible to read Frankenstein as a doppelgänger story. They are seldom seen together (by anyone but the reader). The creature does have something of the demonic double about him as he pursues Frankenstein across the frozen wastes. R L Stevenson would take this idea further with Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde.
Shelley claimed to have seen his doppelgänger shortly before he drowned at sea. He met his own self on the terrace of their villa in Tuscany, who said, ‘How long do you mean to be content?’
And the creature and Shelley shared the same end. The creature promises to construct a funeral pyre for his own destruction at the novel’s climax, and Shelley was burned on an Italian beach on a pyre constructed by friends, including Lord Byron and Trelawney. Legend has it that Trelawney pulled Shelley’s heart from the flames before it was consumed.
Mary is said to have kept it in a velvet bag for the rest of her life, wrapped in a copy of Adonais, Shelley’s elegy for Keats, and took it to her grave.
Frankenstein began his obsessional quest to create life in response to the death of his mother. Mary never knew her mother – the feminist radical Mary Woolstonecraft – who died giving birth to her. Mary suffered the deaths of three of her children. One was a prematurely born daughter named Clara. A second daughter, also named Clara, died on the same ill-fated Italian adventure that claimed her father’s life.
Most horribly, Mary gave the name William to the boy the creatures kills in Frankenstein. This was the name of her own son (and of her father, William Godwin). William Shelley was to die of malaria in Rome aged three.
By the time of the 1831 edition of Frankenstein was published, Byron and Keats would also be dead. Tragedy seemed to loom large in Mary’s life. Perhaps she, more than anyone, could relate to Frankenstein’s dangerous urge to conquer Death.
Chris Priestley’s latest book Mister Creecher is out this week in paperback.
Billy is a street urchin, pickpocket and petty thief.
Mister Creecher is a monstrous giant of a man who terrifies all he meets.
Their relationship begins as pure convenience. But a bond swiftly develops between these two misfits as their bloody journey takes them ever northwards on the trail of their target …Victor Frankenstein.
Friendship, trust and betrayal combine to form a dangerous liaison in this moving and frightening book from Chris Priestley
Many thanks to Chris for his excellent guest post. Don’t forget to stop by The Pewter Wolf tomorrow, to check out Chris’s post about Frankenstein inspired films.
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