The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

by Kiersten White
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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 311

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein (2018) by Kiersten White is an imaginative re-telling of the story of Elizabeth Lavenza, Victor Frankenstein's ill-fated wife from Mary Shelley's 1818 novel, Frankenstein. White's novel is an apt commemorative piece as well as a strong stand-alone contribution to feminist literature.

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The book was released to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Shelley's seminal novel. Shelley's Frankenstein was not only impressive in its own right, but its publication marked an important step for women in fiction. Shelley's novel was one of the most seminal works ever to be written in the Gothic genre, not only galvanizing the literary movement but also paving the way for other female writers like the Brontë sisters (Wuthering Heights is a famous example of Gothic literature). It is appropriate that time and attention on the part of modern writers is dedicated to commemorate Shelley's transformative piece of fiction.

White's re-telling, moreover, is an especially appropriate medium by which to honor Shelley. White's protagonist is herself a woman, and, because she serves as the novel's chief narrator, she exhibits important truths about female writers in this period. Specifically (especially at the novel's outset), Elizabeth is depressed by the absence of her childhood friend and love interest, Victor, who has recently gone to college at the University of Ingolstadt.

Elizabeth's narration reveals how dependent she is on him for a sense of purpose. While her monologues can be dramatic, she is essentially revealing to the reader the true position of women at the time in which the novel is set: if women were abandoned by men, they risked financial destitution and social marginalization. The novel portrays Elizabeth's personal development alongside the events of the plot. Accompanied by two other strong female characters (the governess, Justine, and the bookseller, Mary), Elizabeth puts a stop to Victor's destructive experiments, proving herself to be bold, ruthless, and independent.

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