Frankenstein – Ch. 5

Mary Godwin Shelly’s Frankenstein is a timeless classic and in no need of fixing. However, while reading it I could not shake the sense that it needn’t have turned out so bad for everyone, and that, the story being fictional, there was no reason why gentler, wiser actions, and gentler, less disturbing outcomes might not be sketched at various key points in the plot. Such alternative narratives offer several benefits:

  • The alternative accounts allow readers a respite from the pain of the original, completely-tragic version.
  • They remind readers that fiction is fictional and as such is an interactive and malleable tool for examining the human experience. The meaning of Frankenstein cannot be summed up in words or formulas, but is rather comprised of whatever you the reader and Mary Shelly the author together discover within your shared contemplation of her youthful brainstorm.
  • The existence of other possible narrative threads reminds readers of the dreadful power of unchecked narrative. Frankenstein is devastating because Mary Shelly willed it towards catastrophe. Reading it, the reader cannot help but get swept up in the story and come to believe in the inevitability of its progression. But it is an invented story, and with a little tweak here or there the characters might have easily found slightly wiser and better ideas and feelings, and/or had a bit more luck. At many critical points, such tweaks result in completely different stories. Likewise with the stories told to us about our lives, our desires and satisfactions, our world, our political realities, etc, etc: often do they sweep down upon us and carry us away with the authority and inevitability of their tone. But this is no proof that they are indeed the necessities we oftimes imagine them to be.
  • The alternative narratives allow readers to reflect upon what adjustments are required to push the flow of human events away from the wretched and towards the kinder, gentler, more effectively helpful and truly joyful.
  • They’re kind of fun.

This volume contains the entire original Frankenstein, with hypertext jumps to eight alternative trajectories inserted in critical moments of decision and action. Each alternative narrative begins with a slight introduction, which, if need be, also (candidly: nothing is hidden here!) slightly bends the preceding story so that it more snugly segues into our emendation. You can access that full version of Frankenstein from the table of contents anytime, or jump to it HERE.

If you already know Mary Shelley’s story backward and forward, you might profitably skip to our contribution to the fun. Our interventions follow this introduction, and they are arranged in chronological order — this is different than the experience offered by jumping back and forth between Mary Shelley’s original to our interventions (the original story is not told in a chronological order).

We encourage reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from beginning to end, supplemented with our interventions where we’ve linked to them in the original text. One thereby feels (we here hope) both the wonder of human freedom’s ability to change course for the better, and the terrible consequences of our failure to use our freedom well. It’s neat, and worth contemplatively experiencing. Well — assuming we didn’t let Mary Shelley down, and have complimented her original masterpiece with worthwhile additions.

Anyway — up to you, whoever you are today.

The introductory letters, which provide the setting for the frame story, are ignored by all our alternative versions. The frame story assumes the worst and begins the story with the tragic outcome that we’re endeavoring to escape; therefore, we cannot possibly accept the frame story. That’s not to say you shouldn’t read these introductory letters; just to inform you that we’ve no intention of abiding by them, and indeed act as if they weren’t there at all. This might create some confusion at the close of the novel, when the frame story’s gone full circle and we’re back on board with the overwrought letter writer. Here as elsewhere we request that the reader shrug off any inconsistencies like we do: we’re not redoing Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, but merely considering ways in which things might have turned out better.

We conclude Fixing Frankenstein with a few riffs on some of the happier storylines. In “Assembled Love” we imagine the early years of the monster’s companion, and the monsters’ courtship. “The Picnic” and “The Revelation of the Young Werther” is perhaps the very happiest outcome: Victor Frankenstein, his monster, his monster’s companion, and everyone in Frankenstein’s family and circle are alive and well, and, having learned the secret of avoiding tragedy in their own lives, travel into Goethe’s The Suffering of the Young Werther to rescue Werther from his own self-defeats.  Fixing Frankenstein concludes with an open-air, springtime dance, entitled “Monster Dance”.

A note on style: We decided the transition between the original story and our departures should not be jarring, but we didn’t go so far as to attempt to perfectly match Mary Shelley’s language. That seemed too difficult a goal, not really the point of our exercise, and like to result in failures glaring enough to detract from the reader’s enjoyment.

A note on the natures of the characters: The characters are fictional and often it feels like the original narrative tweaks them away from clear thought, good sense, and wise kindness; we sometimes take the liberty of tweaking them in the opposite direction. The inhabitants of a fiction reveal and shape their own characters in their actions, so if we sketch ways in which the characters might have behaved better, we simultaneously sketch improvements to their ways of feeling/thinking/acting (ie: their dispositions/characters/personalities).

Mary Shelly isn’t the only author possessed of a mania for disaster. After fixing Frankenstein, we do the same for Shakespeare’s King Lear (well, Act 1, Scenes 1 & 2 of Lear), a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Lewis Carrol’s “Jabberwocky”. You might argue that the latter already had a happy ending, since he slew the Jabberwock, was called a “beamish boy”, and invited into his father’s arms. But here we must disagree: the Jabberwock was murdered because the father’s fear and hatred infected his son’s worldview. What is an evil celebrated as a great good but a moral tragedy atop a tragedy of errors??

This volume originally ended with a few Abouts:
“About the Originals”, “About the Cover”, and “About the Author & his Works”.

But then, because this work forced author and editor alike to recognize how obsessively the author and his editor scramble after Something Deeperism, we decided to add a short discussion of Something Deeperism, Pure Love, and the other philosophies and notions underlying our interventions.

And finally, after deciding that our mea culpa “It’s true! We can’t stop demanding adherence to Something Deeperism!” in this introduction, and our long, self-critical preface to Happy Lear would be of interest to very few, and don’t necessarily reflect our most considered considerations anyway, we dropped those sections down to the end as well.

Here, dear General Reader, we’ll give you a little taste of what you’re missing:

[from the Preface to Happy Lear, after we admit to having wrecked King Lear, which by the way we no longer admit to, having decided that it was all in fun and probably doesn’t have anything much to do with whatever the original King Lear really is anyway]

We did no harm to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We made a little study of the language and assayed various, relatively gentle adjustments to the character’s inner and outer actions. Hawthorne wrecked “Rappaccini’s Daughter” with fat-fingered moralizing. So that story is up for grabs, and even if we perhaps intervened with some heaviness in our own hands, still no hands could be as leaden as those that with absolutely no justifiable intellectual or aesthetic grounds hurt Beatrice. As a rules, this project did not overstep itself: we doodled with imperfect but charming creations, twisting them towards the outcome that we cannot bear do without, even in the safe folds of pure fiction: wisdom a la Something Deeperism, and happy endings.

OK, just one more bit from that Preface. We put this here as a way to let you know about us. You may as well know what kind of twitches fill us:

Please note that we feel no such conflictions while mending Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappachinni’s Daughter”. That story needs mending! He had no right to hurt that girl!!!! That we left Hawthorne’s convoluted prose largely untouched is owing only to a certain laziness and timidity in our own natures. Perhaps we too like to hide in empty prose ornamentations. Who knows? In any case, Hawthorne’s a good writer, but he’s not Shakespeare, and there is absolutely no reason for Beatrice to suffer for the sake of his art. No! Do you hear me, Beatrice? Don’t go. Please. Stay. Tell me. Tell me about yourself — what you think, what you feel, what you sense in the pit of the world. Maybe we could compare notes —  I feel something raw and worrisome in the pit of the world, but can’t make out the details very well.

We hope you like the book.
We’re just goofing and kidding around.
Just doodling in the margins of great works.

But we are also pleading quietly, hunched over our naked toes, rearranging pebbles in a dry creek bed in a forest of bristly pines with twisted red-flaking arms high in the blue-sky Arizona mountains: “oh please, oh please, oh please, a better way for me and you and us and all, oh please, oh please, oh God please … “

Bartleby Willard, Author
Amble Whistletown, Editor