Saturday, 2 March 2013

Creecher confusion


I just wanted to talk a little bit about Mister Creecher.  The book has been out for a while now and I'm very pleased to say that it has garnered lots of nice reviews and quite a few award nominations.

But nice though the reviews are, time and again the same errors keep cropping up.  I wanted to try and clear some of these things up before I attend some of those award ceremonies.

Firstly, Mister Creecher is not a Victorian-set book.  I actually state the date at the very beginning.  The book opens on New Year's Day 1818, which is the day Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was first published.  Queen Victoria wasn't even born at that point and it will be almost twenty years before she comes to the throne.

So why do so many reviewers wax lyrical about the Victorian setting?  Well, some of this is down to the stepping stone nature of historical knowledge.  We are more sure of the Victorian period and so reviewers tend to assume if we are talking about foggy London streets and horses and carriages, then we must be in a generic 'Victorian' world (which is actually just as often Edwardian).

This is the Regency period.  Jane Austen has just died.  If you want to people the streets of London in Mister Creecher, a Jane Austen film or television adaptation would be a better guide than a Dickens adaptation.  We are also in the age of the Romantics, so Jane Campion's film Bright Star (about John Keats) is an exact match - and it is a lovely movie too.  Percy and Mary Shelley did indeed live for a while in Great Russell Street, before they left for Italy.  Keats really was at that stone circle in Cumbria that summer.

The confusion about the era is also - I think - to do with the ending of the book.  I don't want to go into too much detail or it will spoil it for those who haven't read it, but what I will say is that Charles Dickens was five when Frankenstein was published.  He was already a published author before Queen Victoria came to throne in 1837, Oliver Twist being serialised in monthly instalments during that same year, when Dickens was only twenty-five.

There is also a continued insistence - particularly I find - among American reviewers to call Victor Frankenstein a doctor.  There is no Dr Frankenstein in Mary Shelley's book or mine.  Neither was Victor Frankenstein a medical student.

I met up with Pierre Fournier who writes the Frankensteinia blog and who knows just about all there is to know about Frankenstein and we talked about this.  We also talked about the fact that whilst everyone assumes the creature - my Mister Creecher - is made up of stitched together body parts, Mary Shelley herself makes no reference to this at all.  She says that Victor Frankenstein frequented charnel houses as part of his research, but makes it clear that he was studying decay, seemingly in an attempt to learn how to reverse it.

Frankenstein is a pro to-scientist - possibly the very image of a mad scientist - but he is also obsessed with alchemy and magic.  The creature seems to have been born out of some meeting of science and alchemy.  The crude scars and stitches that cover the faces of the cinematic creatures are there to frighten us.  They are there to make the  creature seem more horrific.

Mary's original concept of the creature, with its huge build, like a Romantic giant, the workings of his anatomy visible through his wrinkled translucent skin, is far more disturbing and it is the one that I tried to keep in my mind at all times.

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