The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

by Kiersten White
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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 756

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The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White is an updated version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for young adult readers, published on the 200th anniversary of the original, which examines the story from the point of view of Elizabeth Lavenza.

An orphan brought into the Frankenstein home to be a companion for young Victor, Elizabeth finds herself in a precarious social position. Neither an employee nor a family member, she understands she must do her job to act as a check on Victor’s rages or she could be turned out of the Frankenstein home to face a world with no money, no formal education, and no practical skills. As she and Victor grow up together, Elizabeth feels increasingly responsible for him. When Victor stops responding to her letters and appears to go missing, Elizabeth and the Frankenstein governess, Justine, travel to Ingolstadt to find him.

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En route to Ingolstadt, Elizabeth spins a tale for Justine about how she first met Victor. While Justine expresses delight over the story, Elizabeth reflects,

Words and stories were tools to elicit the desired reactions on others, and I was an expert craftswoman.

She acknowledges that due to her circumstances, she must manipulate, flirt, and tell lies in order to get what she needs. She’s aware that lying may not be the best tactic and that withholding the truth from the sincere Justine could damage their friendship, but feels she has little choice. Throughout the novel, Elizabeth shows how artful she is at lying, storytelling, and covering up for Victor’s misdeeds and for getting what she wants—in particular, security from poverty. In this manner, Elizabeth is just as much a creator and artificer as Victor.

When they are young, Victor and Elizabeth are constant companions, exploring the grounds of the remote Frankenstein home. When Victor starts formal education, Elizabeth feels envy and turns to art as compensation. While the others remark on her work, she notes,

But really, it was a way of escaping back into the wilderness when I was trapped inside.

This aside illustrates the talent and intelligence she possesses but can’t use openly in a society that doesn’t allow women to be formally educated. Elizabeth has as much ambition as Victor but can’t employ it through regular, open channels. Again, she has to turn to artifice to fulfill her needs.

In Ingolstadt, when Elizabeth, Justine, and book store clerk Mary search for Victor’s last known address, Elizabeth thinks,

I did not repent my distance from God. If I wanted help, I would find it for myself.

Her expression of frustration at her fate and responsibilities also indicates an independent spirit. If Victor is playing God by becoming a creator of life, then Elizabeth supports his boldness with her own turning away from traditional belief.

The need for creation and artifice carries over into Elizabeth’s understanding of herself and her identity. She confesses,

I had become this girl to survive.

She knows that her fears of poverty and dispossession constantly drive her decisions and actions. In a pivotal scene in which Victor lashes out against his younger brother, Ernest, Elizabeth declares “I will fix this,” indicating her role in the family and in the story as the fixer—of Victor, of their friend Henry, and of Victor’s dangerous situation in Ingolstadt.

After fixing the situation in Ingolstadt and then back home in Switzerland, Elizabeth feels an eerie presence watching her. This presence was foreshadowed by nightmares she had in childhood which were soothed by Victor. Shortly before meeting the entity, Elizabeth expresses her anger at God, then wonders if the giant standing before her is “a manifestation of my guilt” which she feels about her life and her relationships. As she questions the reality of this entity’s existence, Elizabeth wonders if “in my desire for revenge, I was making a monster where only an unknown man had acted,” tying into the novel’s theme of who or what makes a monster.

When Elizabeth finally faces the monster and realizes Victor had created it, she also understands the necessity of finding truth behind lies and story, but her understanding is also marked by her devotion to Victor and her drive for security:

In order to protect him, I had to know the truth of all things.

Elizabeth’s quest leads to a journey abroad and her dark descent to find the light of truth reveals new insights into the original story.

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