This is the year for Mary Shelley and for Frankenstein. I couldn’t be happier. As someone who is a mega fan or Shelley, I am HERE for all the books. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein was on the top of my list. Not only does it deal with Frankenstein, but from another little focused upon character!
Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her “caregiver,” and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend.
Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.
But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.
First off, the dedication to those who feel like a side character in their own story touched my heart. If I thought I was excited before, this dedication makes me even more excited. Secondly, if you know a lot about me, or even not that much, you know I am obsessed with Frankenstein and the whole creator politics. Being able to see the process from a different perspective is phenomenal. What White has done has taken the story I enjoyed, and hold so dear to me, and made it into even more. White adds a desperation, a ferocity, a darkness. It turns this story, which was always gothic, into more – more horror, more ambition.
To say I could identify with Elizabeth in a way I never could with Victor is an understatement. In my initial reading, I always empathized more with the creature – with his plight for freedom, with the realization of the harshness of humanity. It’s no different in this book. Elizabeth has a passion for learning that just pulses through her. But she’s restless. She is caged in by her situation and her sex when all she wants to do is to be free, to explore, and to learn. Because of these factors, Elizabeth’s situation is extremely precarious – founded on desperation and necessity. At the same time, Elizabeth is one of those people who adapts easily. She can be many different versions of herself to fit people’s needs in a way I’m only realizing maybe I do as well?
(The writing technique White employs by interspersing memories from Elizabeth’s past, is wonderful. It juxtaposes the current problems, tensions, and fear, with the real events – the strong undercurrent of circumstance).
There’s almost something sinister, possessive, lurking to this story. And that’s the whole point. This is witnessing the ambition of Victor from the side. Watching him pursue knowledge at any cost and follow it to the very end. I adored this almost horror/thriller atmosphere because I think it gets to the very heart of what Frankenstein is. To readers nowadays, maybe it seems like science fiction, but for readers during this time period, it truly embraced the horror. The book reflected fears of technology and the ways it could threaten their status quo.
In this way, White keeps the source in mind, dancing with it, showing us the angles previously unseen, the reflections from the mirror. The ending of The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein goes above and beyond the source. This is a clever re-imagining that gives this classic tale a new spark of life, giving it something else uncanny. Check it out on Goodreads.