Another in a continuing series about the framed objects on my study walls.
In the summer of 1816, Mary Godwin (not yet Shelley) traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, in company with her lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and her (pregnant) step-sister Claire Clairmont. There, they would meet Lord Byron (the two poets would become good friends), who was the father of Claire's unborn child.
Anyway, 1816 was the famous "Frankenstein summer," the summer of foul weather (the so-called "the year without a summer," caused by an earlier massive eruption of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia), the summer (a day in mid-June) that Lord Byron proposed that they all write a ghost story. Mary, after a day or so of indecision and worry, began the tale that would become Frankenstein.
On July 21, Shelley and Mary set off for the nearby French Alps, for the town of Chamonix. A spectacular glacier nearby, the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice), would simultaneously delight and frighten Mary, who, as she worked on Frankenstein (published on January 1, 1818), elected to set one of the novel's key scenes near Chamonix, on the Mer de Glace.
It is on the glacier that Victor confronts his creature and hears his story about what has happened since Victor abandoned him in horror not long after the "creation." The creature--who is manifestly not the slow-moving, virtually wordless being we so often see in the movies--was not only extraordinarily agile and athletic (oh, what an NBA power forward he would have made!) but extremely articulate. At ease with language. Here is some of what the creature says early in their encounter:
"Be calm! I entreat you to hear me before you give vent to your hatred on my devoted head. Have I not suffered enough, that you seek to increase my misery? Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it. Remember, thou hast made me more powerful than thyself; my height is superior to thine, my joints more supple. But I will not be tempted to set myself in opposition to thee. I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king if thou wilt also perform thy part, the which thou owest me. Oh, Frankenstein, be not equitable to every other and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous." (Chap. 10)
As I've written here before, in the spring of 1999, I was chasing Mary Shelley around Europe, and one of the places I went was Chamonix--I very much wanted to see the Mer de Glace.
But this was not to be. It was pouring rain, and the little tourist train was not running.
I have read, though, that the glacier has greatly diminished in our era of climate change--has nothing like the formidable presence it had when Mary saw it.
Or as it's portrayed in this picture I have hanging on my study wall, a picture I acquired at a Chamonix gift shop, had framed here in Hudson.
PS--Here's a link to some images of the glacier, one of which I've pasted below.
PPS--And here's a cool little entry from Mary's diary, July 22, 1816:
In one village they offered us for sale a poor squirrel which they had caught three days before--We bought it but no sooner had I got it in my hand than he bit my finger & forced me to let it go--we caught it however again & Shelley carried it some time--it appeared at length resigned to its fate when we put it on a railing where it paused an instant wondering where it was & then scampered up the native trees-- (Journals of Mary Shelley, 115).