Thursday, July 01, 2010

Frankenstein in the East End

{Photo and paintings by rocketlass.}

Fresh off a trip with family to the nearby, not particularly well-known Lake Geneva, I traveled in fiction to the real thing--and in much more storied company. Peter Ackroyd's The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, which I failed to notice when it was published here last fall, but was put on to by the the Little Professor recently, brings Victor Frankenstein to Romantic London and introduces him into the circle of Shelley, Byron, et al. He travels with the Shelleys to their famous summer sojourn on the shores of Lake Geneva, where in our world Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was born, all the while haunted by the real monster that he has created through his experiments with galvanism.

The portraits of Frankenstein's companions are great fun: Byron is wonderfully insufferable, Shelley dynamic and charismatic yet clearly dangerous to be around, and even Dr. Polidori, the least famous member of the Lake Geneva troupe, comes to seedy, sponging life. (Speaking of whom, has anyone read The Vampyre, the book that Polidori wrote in response to the challenge that led to Frankenstein? Is it at all worth looking at?} Though the prose is a disappointingly flat by Ackroyd's standards, only perking up in descriptions of hisbeloved London, the conception and the cast of characters are so etertaining that I enjoyed the book regardless.

I particularly enjoyed one of the minor characters whom Ackroyd invented out of whole cloth, Frankenstein's cockney boy-of-all-work, Fred. Fred's unjaded but experienced worldview and wry humor make for important moments of levity in the course of Frankenstein's descent. This exchange amused me enough to share:
Fred was waiting up for me. "There is a funny smell in the room," he said as soon as I entered.


"Of drink, and tobacco, and something else, and something else, all mixed."

"I have been in a tavern," I said. I took off my coat and jacket, and put them on a chair in the hallway.

"Mr. Frankenstein in a tavern. Whatever next?"

"Mr. Frankenstein in bed."

"I was warned against taverns," he said, "when I was a boy. They are too low. You were not robbed, sir, were you?"

"No, Fred, I was not robbed. I was cheated. Porter is threepence a pint. But I was not robbed."

"Porter was the ruin of my father, sir. It was not the donkey that killed him. It was the drink. He never was sober after the dustcart came by."

"What had the dustcart to do with it?"

"He shared a drink with the dustman. He was a regular toper, he was. Never knew which side of the street he was on."

"I have come to the conclusion, Fred, that all Londoners drink."

"They an be very cheerful, sir." He sighed. "They like the flowing bowl."

"You are a poet, Fred."
And with that, I leave you for the holiday weekend. Enjoy blowing things up in honor of our great nation's founding!


  1. 1) My Penguin Classics ed. of FRANKENSTEIN has the Polidori tucked in at the end as an appendix (haven't read it) — also wasn't there a recent novel (British?) *about* Polidori...?

    2) Lake Geneva, WI is *very well known* among the RPG adepti!

  2. Polidori's story isn't bad--it seemed very much a Byron pastiche, but a rather good one.

  3. For you??

    Frankenstein: Lost Souls by Dean Koontz (Bantam: $27) Husband-and-wife detectives must save a Montana town from Victor and his replicant pod people.