2018 marked the 200th anniversary of “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley. The novel is technically told in letters from sea captain Robert Walton to his sister Margaret Walton Saville, starting with three normal missives and then one whopper of a note that includes the whole story of Frankenstein and his creation. Below, in honor of Halloween, and with apologies to Mary, please find Margaret’s response.
I just received your last three letters. When your final letter came, I could scarcely believe it was a letter, as it was so immense, but they assured me it was. I have set out to read it in between my day-to-day tasks running this household. You ship captains must have a good deal of time on your hands! This is 70,000 words, or nearly. I am not certain what to say. I will respond as I go, since there is just so much to respond to.
To start, I am glad it sounds like you found a friend. That Victor Frankenstein sounds like a smart man, from an interesting family. I am glad he wound up on your ship, and that he is willing to confide in you and sees you as a kindred spirit.
I take it back.
Why would his parents want him to marry Elizabeth after bringing her into his home at such a young age? Don’t they know about the Westermarck Effect?
That Victor sounds like a dangerous eccentric who exemplifies the worst tendencies of science run amok. I do not agree at all with his decision to create life from reanimated corpse parts!
But, more pressingly, I would definitely have interrupted him at some point in this narrative. But maybe you didn’t feel you could. I know politeness means a lot to you, but there are limits.
Brother, I cannot help but notice that you have included chapter breaks in your narrative. Chapter breaks, really? This is still a letter, isn’t it?
Robert, now you are telling me, verbatim, what Victor says the creature said to him, verbatim. They sound very similar, but maybe that is Victor’s fault. Also I suppose that they would sound alike, as Victor raised him, as it were.
You must forgive the joke. I have just read 80 pages of this account, and I am still not sure as to why you felt the need to supply me with such detail.
I think he should have finished making a companion for the monster, but what do I know? Frankly, Robert, this reads a lot more like a novel than a letter. I cannot help but wonder: How is your ship? How are your crewmen? Are you anywhere near the Arctic? Do you have any personal news to relate at all? This is all Victor, all the time, and although I know you were taken with him, I’ve never met the guy. Seems a little self-absorbed, not to mention deeper thematic resonances.
Before I returned to this immense missive of yours, my landlady, her voice aquiver with feeling, sat at my fire and began to relate a tale. It was indeed very interesting, but I think it would go over better in person, as she changed narrators six times and a lot of it was in the delivery. So you’ll have to hear it when you get back!
Robert, frankly, I was expecting a letter of this length to contain some sort of personal information or indication of how you were doing, but I skimmed ahead 16 pages (forgive me!) and it is just more of this man Victor and his self-induced problems with that science experiment. Which, do not get me wrong, speaks volumes about the horrors of science and man’s overreach, but is not Urgent News From My Brother, as I was led to believe. I have a full life, Bob. I hope this is building to something.
WOW, WAY TO BURY THE LEAD, BOB!
For future reference, I would have begun this letter by saying, “Margaret! You won’t believe what happened! A man comprised entirely of reanimated corpse parts was JUST ON MY SHIP, but we left him on an ice floe to float away forever. Also, I know his entire backstory, and I will tell it to you when I next see you.”
Speaking of which, I am doing well. My husband is well, as is the rest of the family. Thanks for asking, although you definitely, definitely did not.
P.S. I guess the real monster was society.
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