My dear Mrs. Shelley —
No, that won’t do — she’s neither “mine” nor dear —
To Mary —
No, that sounds like a dedication, when nothing of that sort’s intended —
So cool, polite and very French. That will do. Start a fresh sheet.
No doubt you suspect, if you have not heard of, the sensation caused by your romance, newly translated to our Alpine tongues. Neither the French nor the German booksellers can keep enough of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus in stock. The English governesses read it in English, of course, but in French or German it has an extra, how shall we say, frisson? Our word says it better: Schrecklichkeit.
The bookbinders are up all night preparing the slender volumes for the fainting sight of the ladies. Nothing else is spoken of, and little else read, at our little University. The medical students, especially, are in a frenzy. The Calvinists are not certain of its morals.
I have studied your book, Madame Shelley, and being more intimate than you—or anyone else yet living—with the facts in the case of Frankenstein, I must hasten to write you, that you might correct the grievous oversight of omitting my role—my pivotal role—in the great endeavors, the tragic conflagration.
My surname is of no account, and in point of fact I do not possess one. If this offends you, I charge you still to read on. I, who pen this letter in my own fair hand, am called Fritz, poor old one-eyed, limping Fritz, the hump-backed, unbaptized son of a priest and a nun. I was thrown away; I was raised by gypsies. How I learned the art of writing, and some degree of rhetoric and medicine, is another story. I will spare you nothing, for only the sum of what I am can justify what I was to Victor, his bride and his monster.
You never mention me, Mrs. Shelley, but I was there from the start.
I saw him at the medical school. I always went to the dissections (I have, you see, an insatiable interest
in human anatomy.) I loved to watch those perfect bodies, naked and cold, white as marble statues, opened and disassembled by the knowing hands of the surgeons.
I took my pad and crayon with me, drew every line and contour—the man’s bold lines, the woman’s curved exterior—the coiled horrors within, the entrails unraveling, the mysteries of the ensorceled brain! Oh, to see the brain of a proud man collapse into a gelid heap when the professor is done with it!
That day, suddenly, I looked up from the specimen and noticed him. His jet-black hair, eyebrows of Jove, his burning eyes intent upon the scalpel and saw, absorbing each surgical thrust. I observed him and knew — knew from the start as one soul knows another—that he perceived beyond life and death. He saw me drawing, and nodded, and smiled.
From that day forward I drew only him. Intent no more upon the surgery, I sketched him watching it. I sought to capture the fire of his pupils, the furrow on his brow as some doubt troubled him, the gesture his hand made when his mind melded one great thought from two of a professor’s ideas, or the little swat of dismissal his left hand proffered when some hoary medical principle was cited from the ancients.
Cupping a handful of brain-gelatin, gray and convoluted, the lecturer shrugged and dropped it,
“Is this the seat of knowledge? —this organ? —Is this the soul writ here in nerves and ganglia? No one knows.”
The orbs of Frankenstein replied “I am the one who will know.”
Hunched in the darkest nook of the students’ wine cellars, I heard him complain, “It is not enough to watch
those well-rehearsed dissections. If only I had a cadaver—one of my own—I must know the inner workings of life!”
How could I bear to hear him suffer, he who should want nothing? That night I robbed a mausoleum — a rich man’s grave easy to plunder, a simple job of claw and crowbar, a lumpy sack and a handcart. I dumped the bag before his door and knocked. He came in nightshirt, candle in hand, looked down at me in startlement.
“For you,” I said. “Your own c—c——ca—-cadaver,” I stammered.
He did not seem surprised. He took one end of the heavy burden, let me come in with the rest of it.
“It’s very fresh,” I assured him. “He was only interred just yesterday.”
I waited. He stared at me.
“How much do you want?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing!” I answered.
“You must want something for this!”
“I want … I want.” I could not say it.
“Tell me.” He looked a little kind, then. I think he understood.
“I want to serve you,” I told him. “To serve you … always.”
We worked on happily— my shovel and cart, his saw and scalpel. We found a more remote and spacious laboratory, paid for it with gold. (How I laughed as I melted each crucifix, after I had stripped three village churches of their gilded adornments!)
From its rooftop we could look down upon Ingolstadt and the ant-like movement of the professors and students in their fluttering robes. They had no idea that true Science was advancing at our cliff-top eyrie, a place they thought inhabited only by goats and old hermits.
Oh, the machinery we made! All praise to Archimedes, by whose pulleys and mechanics we were able to lift all the machinery (and the dead weight of corpses) from the meadow’s end to the abandoned wind-mill above. By a clever device of weights and counterweight one could wind back a large wheel and then be carried on a small scaffold all the way to the open bay of the laboratory.
I turned the wheels that made small lightning leap over the ceiling vault. I worked the bellows to fill the great retort with the gas, that lightning then condensed into the glowing elixir, the dream of the alchemists that made life scream into inanimate matter.
Our workroom was a madhouse—old vellum books and amulets heaped up with bones of animals, crystals and astrolabes, the surgeon’s shining tools, and in a far corner, the charnel pit of amputated limbs.
In our madness, we succeeded. We howled while tissues, dead or rotting, quivered and multiplied; as hands flung themselves off in every direction; as eyes rolled and irises dilated in lidless horror; and as brains roiled in their captive tanks, spine stems twitching with inexpressible longings.
Then, confounded with this roil of animated flesh, we threw it all into a vat of acid. “These are but preludes,” he confided to me.
“What next?” I asked. “Shall we raise the dead?”
“No, Fritz, I have no use for the rotting dead. Most men are little more than animated meat, unfit for the one life given them. We shall make a being new, a manufactured man.” So enraptured was he, that saying this, he fell down senseless.
I put him in bed, undressed his insensate form, stroked the white limbs no scalpel had scarred,
then limped to my corner where I slept like a dog, like some great hound who had found his god.
Then she came calling at Victor’s town lodgings. She—Elizabeth. At first I hated her. Her finery mocked me, her manners impeccable, her accent just so. Though he had never mentioned her, they were betrothed, in love since childhood, it seems. The kind of high Platonic foolery that leads one to an early marriage, I gathered.
Daily she came for tea, tried to win me over with pastries and gingerbread, plied Victor for news of his abandoned studies. As one upon another, each Ingolstadt don came up for our mockery (except our idol Waldman), her awe increased. She understood he had no further need of the lecture hall or surgical theater.
I liked her laughter, the way blond hair exploded when she threw off her bonnet, the Alpine sky in her eyes. Yet I hated to watch her chaste little kisses that fell on Victor’s blushing cheeks, the way their hands would find each other.
One day we were alone. I had to make excuses while Victor dissected a youthful suicide fished from a stream, a German student with a copy of Werther still in his pocket.
Then she told me she was an orphan too, her name not Frankenstein like those who raised her as Victor’s “cousin,” but Lavenza. Frau Frankenstein had found her, one of five babies in a hovel, kept by peasants to whom she would be a careworn Cinderella. She was a fairy child, raised by the Frankensteins on music and poetry. See what the rich can do for others when it amuses them?
She knew nothing of what we did. The sight of blood, the surgeon’s saw, would fill her with horror. How could she hope to companion this man who walked with gods?
And then it happened. She touched me.
A passing thing, really. A piece of gingerbread from palm to palm, but then she lingered, pressed fingers against my inner palm.
“You are so loyal to Victor,” she said, “so you shall be dear to me.”
She never flinched at my twisted visage. Her eyes saw past the hump and its shadow.
Dear to her! Dear to her! That night I scaled the boarding house wall, watched from a tree as she undressed. She drank some warm milk at her bedside. I watched in a slice of moonlight, her breasts and bosom in lonely heaving, her legs this way and that.
Had Victor ever lain with her?
Might I, “dear friend?”
The next night, the milk she drank was tinged with laudanum. When the time was right, I crept beneath her silken beddings, buried my face in her virgin globes—oh, I was light upon her, like the fairies she dreamt of.
Once she cried out, “Oh, Victor!”
I stole away, the scent of her golden nape, those wondrous nipples with me always.
The next night more laudanum was in Victor’s red wine, a cheap vintage we bought to celebrate the surgery by which the suicide’s heart now beat in a headless torso.
I carried him to bed, removed the blood-stained smock, sponged off his fevered brow, watched him in candlelight as his features softened, his eyelids fluttering in pulse of dream-state. I lay beside him,
touching—oh! —everywhere. Twice he cried out; once, he held me without awakening.
I crept away in bliss, mad as a moth in a lamp shop. Now, when they talk of marriage, it is a happy thought. I can be wed to both of them as long as the laudanum holds out.
Damn the chemist! The sleeping draught wore off at the worst of times. He woke from his sleep as I perched at the foot of his bed.
My nakedness repelled him. He hurled me out of his window into a haycart, damned me, warned me never to return to my room in the cellar.
What could I do? To whom could I go? I took a whip from the half-wrecked cart, then took myself off to the cold and empty laboratory on the hill.
He would need me when he returned there.
The season of storms was coming soon. The lifeless shell up there was nearly ready for animation.
I would hand him the whip. I would beg him to punish me, hurt me, but let me stay for the great work. He would never suspect how many nights I had visited his bed, or hers.
I wanted to see his eyes as the created Being stood before him, hear his cry of god-defying blasphemy as man took control, and named the day of the dead’s arising.
My god and punisher returned. He found the whip, and used it.
For days I lay not moving, my lacerated flesh alive, my blood congealing to the scabs I was proud to wear, the stripes of his forgiveness.
He sent me out on a sacred quest: a pair of kidneys but hours dead, a male, with everything intact.
I understood what was needed. As I prowled the street for drunkards I conceived a monstrous jest.
Our being must be superlative, and I knew just the man. Jean-Christophe Weiss was the talk of every student in the beer hall. He boasted of his conquests, how women fainted beneath his exertions. The Ingolstadt brothel would not admit him unless he paid a triple rate. Mothers warned daughters to turn away
when his languid gaze caught them.
Their faces reddened as he shopped the stalls, one hand on an apple or a load of bread, the other lifting a veil, or a skirt. It was said that certain widows happily opened their doors to him. One night he leaped from the balcony of the nunnery of St. Genevieve’s and what had happened there not one of the sisters would tell.
I did not wait long to find him. Like me, he knew how to evade the curfew. I caught him emerging from a certain garden gate (a house with three comely daughters). One blow to the head with my crowbar, then into the sack he went.
The surgery was flawless. Once more I watched as disconnected tissues, loose veins and nerves like roots from a flowerpot quivered, electrified, sought one another like amorous eels and connected, how the rent flesh closed beneath the sutures: weeks of healing completed in minutes!
If Victor recognized the organs’ donor, he never showed it. I know he looked again and again as our perfect being’s perfect manhood rose and fell, rose and fell, as vein and synapse made their connections.
“Cover him!” he said at last. “My God, what a monster!”
“The kites, Fritz! The kites!” With these words all was forgiven—he needed me.
The howling storm raged. Day became night as roiling thunderheads collided like contending Titans, black rams head-butting the Alps and one another. The rain came down in undulating sheets, blown this way, that way.
Right over us, two airborne lakes, like angry Titans, slapped one another’s cheeks and fell, exploding. Roulades of thunder echoed everywhere. Streams became torrents, meres rose and swallowed astonished sheep and cattle.
As every shutter down in Ingolstadt clamped shut, we knew the day was ours. No one would see the sloping roof of our old mill-tower slide open to the elements, or how the scaffolding rose up, and I within it, higher than the far-off steeples. From safe inside my insulated cage I unfurled the kites on their copper wires. Up they went, hurled eastward, then back again in contrary gales, till they soared taut and defiant, overarching the blackened granite hill whose woods surrounded our workplace.
I did not fear the lightning. I sang to it, danced it down.
“Strike! Strike!” I screamed. “Come now, flames of Heaven! Waste not your energy on those pitiful pines.
I am the bait, so come for me—I am King of the Gargoyles—I am deformity incarnate—blasphemer since infancy—robber of graves and churches—rapist and fornicator!” Ah, Mrs. Shelley, Lord Byron with his mountain sprites and demons is but a pretender: I have drawn the wrath of God until all my hairs stood on end and tiny lightnings emerged from my finger-ends.
I was the spider; the wires were my webs to lure Creation down.
It came! I howled as the great light jabbed toward me, reveled in the thunder’s drum, exulting as the kites survived lash after lash, boom upon boom. Blue, green and amber sparks spun, danced and plummeted.
I could not see below, but I knew what was happening: how Victor captured it all below in those vast and hungry capacitors, how the hot wires sparked and smoked as the current transferred to the vat of green elixir in which our creature bathed—how all its flesh, unable to die (and yet thus far without the will to live) would join the ranks of creation.
How long I played there, tempting with soliloquies the angry sky, how long the kites drew power downward till they fell in tatters I cannot tell. I was deafened and nearly blind when the master drew me down. He led me to my corner, said I would see in a while.
My ears already made out the master’s song of victory as he cried out “It lives! It lives!”
He robbed the gods of more than fire or gold—my master, Frankenstein, the modern Prometheus!
The master grew sick at heart over his creation. “It is beneath the level of a beast,” he moaned. He came right up to the eight-foot-tall creature and lifted its chin. “It has no reason, no light of intelligence. Its eyes are dead things. Look at these hands—twice the size of mortal man’s. Its legs could run a hundred miles without tiring. The heart that beats in his breast is charged with lightning and cannot be stilled. He can live forever.”
“Are these not advantages, Master?” I pleaded. “Can he not learn?”
“He! He!” Victor cried out. “It! It! A thing, not a man. It has not said a word.”
“Does an infant speak, master? Does even a young child do more than imitate the sounds around him?”
Victor turned his back and waved one hand as if to clear the whole existence of his creature away with a gesture.
“Oh, send it away, Fritz! Send it away! Wait until it sleeps—for it sleeps soundly and for days on end—and cart it off to the glacier where it will fall into some crevasse and freeze itself. Or hurl it yourself from some cliff.”
“Master, a moonless night is coming. We should wait so that no one will see me go with the cart. Is that not wise?”
Victor was already gone. His voice replied from a distance, “Whenever you think best. But keep it locked here. Don’t loosen those chains.”
I closed the door. No one would see or hear, as I shook the shaggy beast awake.
His great hands cradled me. I put aside the whip and the torch I was supposed to use to tame him.
His huge eyes opened. Irises as black as raven feathers took me in.
I touched him where he liked it.
“Friend,” I said.
“Friend, friend,” the hell-deep voice echoed.
It would be five days and nights until the dark of the moon. He had much to learn.
My dear Mrs. Shelley, I am nearly out of paper, and the hand grows tired. What I have already told you differs much from what you know, but much of what you wrote is close enough to truth. Victor, that very night, suffered a nervous collapse. He returned to the bosom of his family and to the care of his dear friend Henry Clerval. Elizabeth was the lode-star who brought him back to normal.
That Being whom I did not destroy, he and I wreaked havoc across Europe, yea, from Gibraltar to Caucasus we left our mark and legend, the Dwarf and the Giant ransacking cathedrals and making monasteries and nunneries into charnel houses. We had a part in the undoing of several kingdoms, and our company was sought by the most corrupt and decadent in Paris, Berlin, and Rome. A great deal of our doings would be unprintable in any tongue from any press, so I shall not divulge more. What cannot be printed does you no good, and serves only the hangman if any further letters of mine fall into the wrong hands.
At last the Being, desperate for mate and equal, did indeed resort to Victor Frankenstein, and all the terrible vengeance that followed upon his refusal, is as you relate it in your novel. Yet I was there for all, and I alone remain to tell it.
As you know well, Victor Frankenstein did not pursue his creature across the Arctic ice, to mutual destruction. He died in a Swiss sanitarium.
I, and the one who is my only Friend, look forward to meeting you in person, that we may extend our regards, and further correct your authorial errors. We have booked passage to London and until we regard you face-to-face I remain, at this distance,
Yr humble and obedient servant,