The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

by Kiersten White
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 381

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein (2018) by Kiersten White celebrates the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818). The publication of Shelley's book inaugurated a tradition of women writing horror (or women writing at all). The novel follows Elizabeth Lavenza (who, in Shelley's novel, was the...

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The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein (2018) by Kiersten White celebrates the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818). The publication of Shelley's book inaugurated a tradition of women writing horror (or women writing at all). The novel follows Elizabeth Lavenza (who, in Shelley's novel, was the adoptive cousin of Victor Frankenstein, strangled by Victor's monster on the eve of their wedding). The narrative is told in the first person by Elizabeth as well as through through pieces from Victor's journal. The themes of the novel include feminism, abuse, and mental illness.

Feminism and Elizabeth's Independence:

Elizabeth Lavenza is a bold and ruthless individual. The very basis for this revisionist fiction novel is that the marginalized woman who is only a secondary character in Shelley's book takes center stage in White's re-telling. Moreover, Elizabeth enjoys the privileged position of a narrator herself. In this way, the novel has much in common with Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), a re-telling of Jane Eyre from the perspective of Rochester's mad wife. White's book can truly be called a piece of feminist fiction not only because features a female protagonist but also because of how the protagonist develops within the novel. She begins as a vulnerable orphan who is obsessed with Victor, her childhood companion. She feels perpetually indebted to Victor and his family for having saved her life. By the end of the novel, she realizes that she has an identity of her own and does not need Victor to be happy, much less to survive.

Abuse:

Abuse is portrayed as a theme throughout the novel. Victor engages in animal abuse in addition to murder once his experiments get underway. Elizabeth herself experiences abuse—in the form of beating and starvation—which she vividly remembers from her time in foster care (where she was placed after her mother died in childbirth).

Finally, Victor abuses Elizabeth mentally, as he locks her up in an insane asylum as he prepares to kill her. Victor's character has all of the features of a true psychopath; he is of course insensitive and violent to others (killing his brother and childhood friend), he has inflated sense of self, and he has a warped opinion of reality, believing that he can keep Elizabeth to himself by killing her.

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