Mary's fascination with the glacier near Chamonix, France ...
The Mer de Glace had dazzled Mary when she’d seen it in the summer of 1816. Here’s what she wrote in her journal on July 24: It is the most desolate place in the world – iced mountains surround it – no sign of vegetation appears except on the place from which [we] view the scene – we went on the ice - It is traversed by irregular crevices whose sides of ice appear blue while the surface is of a dirty white - We dine on the mountain – the air is very cold yet many flowers grow here …
In Frankenstein (published about seventeen months later) Mary chose the glacier for a key encounter between Victor and his creation. She begins with a more elaborate description of the site:
For some time I sat upon the rock that overlooks the sea of ice. A mist covered both that and the surrounding mountains. Presently a breeze dissipated the cloud, and I descended upon the glacier. The surface is very uneven, rising like the waves of a troubled sea, descending low, and interspersed by rifts that sink deep. The field of ice is almost a league in width, but I spent nearly two hours in crossing it. The opposite mountain is a bare perpendicular rock … I remained in a recess of the rock, gazing on this wonderful and stupendous scene. The sea, or rather the vast river of ice, wound among its dependent mountains, whose aerial summits hung over its recesses. Their icy and glittering peaks shone in the sunlight over the clouds. My heart, which was before sorrowful, now swelled with something like joy; I exclaimed, “Wandering spirits, if indeed ye wander, and do not rest in your narrow beds, allow me this faint happiness, or take me, as your companion, away from the joys of life.”
And, sitting there, Victor (who is narrating) sees something surprising.
As I said this I suddenly beheld the figure of a man, at some distance, advancing towards me with superhuman speed. He bounded over the crevices in the ice, among which I had walked with caution; his stature, also, as he approached, seemed to exceed that of man. I was troubled; a mist came over my eyes, and I felt a faintness seize me, but I was quickly restored by the cold gale of the mountains. I perceived, as the shape came nearer (sight tremendous and abhorred!) that it was the wretch whom I had created. I trembled with rage and horror, resolving to wait his approach and then close with him in mortal combat. He approached; his countenance bespoke bitter anguish, combined with disdain and malignity, while its unearthly ugliness rendered it almost too horrible for human eyes. But I scarcely observed this; rage and hatred had at first deprived me of utterance, and I recovered only to overwhelm him with words expressive of furious detestation and contempt.
“Devil,” I exclaimed, “do you dare approach me?”
And then the creature begins to speak—not, of course, in the grunts and groans that composed his language in the 1931 film (and many thereafter) but in graceful and literate English—and he explains what has happened in his life since his “birth.”
And so, as I type these words, I once again regret (and curse!) the rain and snow in Chamonix in the spring of 1999, conditions that prevented me from seeing the glacier that—some 183 years earlier—had animated the imagination of young Mary Godwin.