Thursday, 8 August 2013
A huge envelope full of books arrived not long after we came back from Greece - seven copies of the German edition of Mister Creecher.
The movie versions have been obsessed with the Germanic quality of the name Frankenstein, but as I have mentioned before, Victor Frankenstein - despite the name - was not German, but Swiss (albeit he was actually born in Naples). He lived in the French-speaking city of Geneva.
Mary Shelley, like all writers, was making use of her personal knowledge, and she had been staying in a house in the grounds of Byron's Villa Diodati, on the shores of Lake Geneva, when she had the nightmare that would spawn her famous novel.
She also, with the poet Percy Shelley (Mary was still Mary Godwin then), would have sailed past Castle Frankenstein on the Rhine. It is from this castle that Victor probably gets his German name.
But the name has been responsible for all those Germanic castles and villages that appear in the early movies - hilariously spoofed in Young Frankenstein (or should that be Fronkensteen?)
The Germanic connection is not completely spurious though. Victor trains at the University of Ingolstadt in Bavaria and it is here that he develops his theories and creates his 'monster'. But when the creature runs away after Victor rejects him, he flees to the forest and learns to speak (somewhat unbelievably) from French refugees - the De Laceys - in an isolated cottage. By this stroke of good fortune, the creature learns the same language as his creator, and is therefore able to converse with him at length when they next meet.
Ingolstadt is sometimes described as the setting for Frankenstein, but it occupies a relatively small part of the book. It is the setting for the creation, but the rest of the book employs Switzerland, England, Scotland and the Orkneys, as well as the Arctic as settings. It uses the kind of big, bold, Romantic locations that Turner and Friedrich were painting at the same time.