Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Monday, February 6, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 283

Transfusion; or, The Orphans of Unwalden (1835), William Godwin, Jr.’s posthumous novel, begins in the Swiss village (fictional) of Unwalden. The narrative camera shows us long and wide shots of the village, then zooms in to a death-bed scene: It’s the mother of two of our main characters, Madeline and Albert Schvolen. Albert (who’s deaf) runs out to find his sister—but can’t—and when he returns, he finds a strange man kneeling beside the bed. Albert hears his mother call the man “Henry”—and ask him to care for her children. So … Godwin explains the title early: We know who the “orphans of Unwalden” are.
Later, a young man—Wahrend—tries to court Madeline, but she’s reluctant, wary. Then a letter comes, explaining the children’s mysterious biography. They go looking for an uncle, who has left Unwalden without notifying them, and so the mystery unwinds.
There’s some supernatural stuff going on, too. Albert, it seems, has learned the power of “transfusion,” the ability to exchange minds with another. At one point he speaks about it to Madeline: “. . . the great mystery I have buried deep in my breast, enables me to transfuse one man’s mind into another’s receptacle for that undefined and immaterial essence.”[1] (172). Near the end, his sister is dying, and Albert desperately tries to apply this skill to save her. But the novel ends in great darkness.
Godwin, Jr. had some talent. Every now and then he pops up out of the narrative for a comment. There are two sorts of love, he writes. One—pure, exquisite, and lovely; founded on affection for a single and invaluable object, and resting its whole hope on that object’s happiness; the other is single and insidious, built only on self-gratification and the desire of indulging at all hazards and unsharing principle.[2]
So we have to agree with William Godwin that if his son (only 29 when he died, remember) had survived the cholera epidemic, he might have had quite a literary future.

[1] (New York: Wallis & Newell, 1836), 172.
[2] Ibid., 47–48.

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