Frankenstein Unbound

by Brian W. Aldiss

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Characters Discussed

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Joseph (Joe) Bodenland

Joseph (Joe) Bodenland, a liberal presidential adviser deposed by right-wing extremists. He is transported by a timeslip from the twenty-first to the early nineteenth century. He is a grandfather but becomes young again when the timeslip takes him back to 1816. He finds himself at Lake Geneva, near the Villa Diodati, where he meets Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Shelley’s mistress, Mary, who is in the process of writing the novel Frankenstein. Attracted to Mary, he has a brief affair with her. Having come from the future, Bodenland can foretell the ecological damage that will be wrought by technology run amok, by the conquest of nature symbolized by Frankenstein’s experiments. Consequently, he kills Frankenstein and destroys both Frankenstein’s monster and his mate.

Victor Frankenstein

Victor Frankenstein, a Swiss scientist. Unlike the Frankenstein of Mary Shelley’s novel, who is an idealistic man of sensibility, this Frankenstein is a cynical, abrasive, and bitterly proud individual. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein destroys the monster’s mate on which he is working, lest he create a race of monsters, and then pursues the male monster after it murders his bride, Elizabeth. In this novel, unlike Shelley’s, Victor does not marry Elizabeth, nor is she killed. He completes the monster’s mate and brings her to life. When he then proposes creating a third monster to fight the first two, Bodenland kills him.

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, the author ofFrankenstein, the eighteen-year-old mistress and future wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley. When Bodenland encounters her, she is still in the process of writing her novel, which she insists is fiction. At the same time, however, some of the events in it, altered by the author of Frankenstein Unbound, are occurring in a parallel world. Mary has a brief, idyllic affair with Bodenland before he returns to Geneva to try to persuade Frankenstein not to proceed with his monster making.

George Gordon, Lord Byron

George Gordon, Lord Byron, the well-known English Romantic poet, who is twenty-eight years old in this novel. In self-imposed exile from England because of his dissolute life and several sex scandals, the handsome, dashing, and cynical Byron is currently the lover of Mary’s half sister, Claire.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley, the well-known English Romantic poet, who is twenty-four years old in this novel. He is the author of Prometheus Unbound, from which the title Frankenstein Unbound was derived. A religious and political radical, Shelley deserted his wife, who drowned herself, and is currently the lover of Mary Godwin, whom he will later marry. A session in which Byron, Shelley, and Mary told tales of terror on a tempestuous night resulted in Mary writing Frankenstein.

The Frankenstein monster

The Frankenstein monster, a creature cobbled together from cadavers and brought to life by Victor Frankenstein. In the original novel by Mary Shelley, the monster is a highly articulate person of sensibility, benevolent until turned to rage and violence by repeated rejection. The monster of Frankenstein Unbound lacks sensitivity and is a coarse brute who mates violently with his bride.

The monster’s mate

The monster’s mate, whom Victor Frankenstein destroys in Frankenstein before her completion. In Frankenstein Unbound, she is brought to life, mates with the monster, and flees with him, pursued by Bodenland, who kills them both. In a sinister touch, Victor gives her the face of Justine Moritz, an innocent maidservant hanged for the murder of Victor’s brother, who was actually killed by the monster.

Elizabeth Lavenza

Elizabeth Lavenza, Frankenstein’s betrothed. In Frankenstein , she is a gentle, sorrowful person killed by the...

(This entire section contains 628 words.)

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monster on her wedding night. InFrankenstein Unbound, she is abrasive, has Bodenland arrested, and then disappears from the action, unharmed by the monster.

The Characters

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Except for Joe Bodenland and a few minor characters, the characters in Frankenstein Unbound come either from Frankenstein or from actual history. Aldiss’ portrayals of Byron and Shelley correspond to the image one has of them from their life and works. A novelist takes a certain risk in re-creating great writers and inventing dialogue for them; the danger is that the fictional portrait will fall flat and the dialogue be far beneath the writers’ own style. Yet Aldiss succeeds brilliantly in making Byron and Shelley seem authentic; he endows the former with sardonic wit and the latter with eloquent idealism and nervous mannerisms. As for Mary, she is described as “fair and birdlike, with brilliant eyes and a small wistful mouth” and an irresistible laugh. Joe Bodenland finds in her a warm, generous affection, and in making them lovers, Aldiss may be indulging in a vicarious love affair with the founder of science fiction.

Aldiss takes liberties with the characters of Frankenstein, however, since he places them in an alternate world where they can assume a life of their own. Thus, Victor Frankenstein and his associates are far less sympathetic than in the original. In Frankenstein Unbound, Victor is less the noble hero of sensibility stricken with remorse for the horrors he has brought to his friends and family and is far more a morose, sullen individual, alternately wallowing in self-pity and subject to fits of megalomania. His fiancee, Elizabeth, and friend Clerval, both admirable in Frankenstein, are here presented as cold, arrogant, and hostile. Neither is killed by the monster, though they both are in the original.

The monster itself, far from looking hideous, is beautiful in a terrifying sort of way; the features are not quite human but resemble a helmet face painted on a skull; the monster looks “like a machine, lathe-turned.” Aldiss’ monster is less guilty than that of Shelley; he has killed William and caused the death of Justine, but he does not murder Elizabeth and Clerval. Thus, dying, he can legitimately cry that no fury he could possess could match that of Bodenland.

Bodenland is perhaps the least fully developed character in the novel. Though he is the narrator, the reader does not get a vivid image of him; one never even learns what he looks like. An intruder into this world, he serves mainly to alter the action and to engage in Platonic dialogues about the role of science, the nature of mankind, and the course of history. His thoughts tell more about the Shelleys, Byron, Frankenstein, and his associates than about Bodenland himself. Once stuck in the world of 1816, he ceases to think about his own world or his lost family; he simply plunges into the Frankenstein drama, driven by a boundless curiosity and compulsion to get involved. In one sense, he is the conscience of the novel; able to foresee the future consequences of Frankenstein’s work, he tries to “wreck the fatalism of coming events.” In another sense, he becomes corrupted, so that toward the end, he realizes that he has “lied, cheated, committed adultery, looted, thieved, and ultimately murdered.” When he kills Victor and then takes over his role to pursue and destroy the monsters, he becomes as deadly as they, and the dying monster accuses him of not knowing compassion.




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