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V. Evian

The last of the direct homicides in the novel is the monster's strangulation of Elizabeth Lavenza Frankenstein at Evian, on the night of her wedding to Victor (214-18; vol. 3, chap. 5, 6). The place is a short boat trip from the wedding site at Geneva, but so are other lakeside retreats. Why the murder occurs at Evian, rather than elsewhere, is a function of political geography. Percy Shelley provides the essential gloss in one of his sections of History of a Six Weeks' Tour, the collaborative project with Mary published just before Frankenstein: "The appearance of the inhabitants of Evian is more wretched, diseased and poor, than I ever recollect to have seen. The contrast indeed between the subjects of the King of Sardinia and the citizens of the independent republics of Switzerland, affords a powerful illustration of the blighting mischiefs of despotism, within the space of a few miles." 53

The King of Sardinia was the title held since 1720 by the ruling member of the House of Savoy, and, as a result, Savoy itself had come to be called Sardinia. By introducing Sardinian or Savoyard Evian into the narrative, Mary Shelley is establishing an implicit contrast with one of the "independent republics of Switzerland," namely Geneva. The latter had won its independence from the duke and [End Page 485] bishop of the House of Savoy in the 1530s and declared itself Protestant in reaction against Catholic Savoy in the same decade. In 1602 Geneva had victoriously repulsed a sneak attack by the Duke of Savoy's forces, who had placed their scaling ladders against the city walls. This event, called the "Escalade," is a much commemorated defining episode in the history of the republic. Geneva was admitted to the Swiss Confederation in 1814, just before Percy and Mary Shelley made literary and political use of a contrast between free Swiss Geneva and absolutist, Sardinian Evian. 54

When Frankenstein was written and first published, the Sardinian regime was especially obnoxious to European liberals: King Victor Amadeus III had led a coalition of Italian rulers against the French Revolution in the 1790s, and after 1802, Victor Emmanuel I became a symbol of conservative resistance to Napoleon by holding out against the Emperor of the French on the island of Sardinia, where he was protected by the British fleet. He was a big winner at the Congress of Vienna, regaining Piedmont, Nice, and Savoy, including most of the south shore of Lake Geneva, and acquiring Genoa at the same time. He would rule autocratically, until a popular revolution forced him to abdicate in favor of his brother in 1821. For the Shelleys in 1816-1818 the Kingdom of Sardinia was a distillation of the most reactionary politics of the European Restoration.

Unlike the earlier murders in the novel, the killing of Elizabeth does not represent some past political execution or revolution. It is an image of an impending future. Revolution, from this point of view, looms within the most conservative European states: not only the Kingdom of Sardinia, but also Austria, Britain, Prussia, and Russia. Although the rulers do their best to keep their populations uninformed about or hostile to the ideas of Rousseau and other protorevolutionary thinkers, the novel suggests that a monster has been let loose which can never again be confined within any set spatial boundary. Although this vision is expressed through fictions of horror, it is not necessarily pessimistic. Frankenstein, like the novel incompletely named in Mary Shelley's dedication page to her father— Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (46)— traces the disastrous consequences of faulty political assumptions held by society as a whole. If those assumptions, "things as they are," can be peaceably changed and the pleas of the stereotyped and downtrodden can begin to be heard, revolutionary violence, according to Mary Shelley's novel, can be averted. As Percy Shelley would write, in his "Philosophical View of Reform," there are only two [End Page 486] options for society in the post-Waterloo period: "Despotism" inevitably followed by "Revolution"; or else "Reform." 55

By the time the second edition of Frankenstein is published in 1831, the rightist political meaning of "Evian" has been blurred by the 1821 uprising in Sardinia, and the resignation of an especially reactionary monarch. Yet the kingdom would not become even a constitutional monarchy until 1848. Mary Shelley now has seen first-hand the rising popular tide of Italian nationalism, which is directed not against Sardinia but against a more reactionary and unwanted regime—Austria. Accordingly, she supplies a new political emphasis surrounding Elizabeth's life and death, while leaving the murder itself at Evian. She cannot credibly transport the newlyweds to Austrian territory in the time required by the monster's threat—"I shall be with you on your wedding-night" (193; vol. 3, chap. 3)—granted that the wedding itself has to take place in Geneva, the home of Victor's father and the bride. In 1831, therefore, Mary gives Elizabeth origins in Austrian-controlled Lombardy and a honeymoon destination in the same area. Her father becomes an Italian nobleman from Milan who "exerted himself to obtain the liberty of his country." His fate points an accusatory finger towards the Hapsburg empire: "Whether he had died, or still lingered in the dungeons of Austria, was not known." Victor's mother finds the young child living with Italian peasants near Lake Como in Lombardy. As the wedding approaches, Victor's father persuades the Austrian government to restore to her a "part" of her confiscated "inheritance," a small villa on Lake Como, where the couple will go "immediately after our union," though "sleeping that night at Evian," in order to "spend our first days of happiness beside the beautiful lake near which it [the villa] stood." 56 The narrative and the lovers strain toward the idyllic Italian lake but find themselves trapped in a reality—Evian—that falls fatally short of such a recovery. The restoration of Italian liberty is the political prize that hovers just out of reach. In this seemingly temporary state of deprivation, murder, signifying revolution, erupts. The cautionary lesson is much the same as in 1818, but the narrative means have become more complex, as Mary Shelley attempts to adjust her story to altering political realities. Alphonse Frankenstein's successful negotiation with the Austrians suggests a potential for nonviolent progress, but the novel implies that if change does not come very quickly, it will be too late to prevent catastrophe.

Frankenstein's selection and sequence of places represent the international and destabilizing phenomenon of spreading Enlightenment [End Page 487] ideas and revolutionary impulses in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In contrast to Moretti's model of the solidification of the boundaries and structures of existing nation-states in the nineteenth-century European novel, Mary Shelley's book depicts forces that cannot be confined by the political control or geographic space of French or British power. 57 From initial plotting, at least in reactionary eyes, in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, and by a son of the independent city-state of Geneva, through early outbreaks in French-speaking Europe, with special emphasis on the Genevese manifestations, to abortive British attempts to develop the revolutionary tradition further, followed by a bloody and portentous uprising in the overseas colony of Ireland, to a threatening cataclysm within the homeland of the bulwarks of European reaction, the author systematically places her Gothic horrors within the geographical and political particularities of European and world history. Like Percy Shelley, she views revolutionary thinking and practice as an informed, critical observer and liberal sympathizer who wishes to prevent both continued injustice and revolutionary violence, by motivating readers to overcome their prejudices sufficiently to accept fundamental reform.


University of California, San Diego


1. Some important contributions to the large scholarly literature are: Lee Sterrenburg, "Mary Shelley's Monster: Politics and Psyche in Frankenstein," in The Endurance of Frankenstein, ed. George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1979), 143-71; Ronald Paulson, Representations of Revolution (1789-1820) (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1983), 239-47; Paul O'Flinn, "Production and Reproduction: The Case of Frankenstein," Literature and History 9 (1983): 194-213; Mary Poovey, The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer (1984; reprint, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1985), 114-42; Anne K. Mellor, Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters (1988; reprint, New York: Routledge, 1989); Joseph W. Lew, "The Deceptive Other: Mary Shelley's Critique of Orientalism in Frankenstein," Studies in Romanticism 30 (1991): 255-83; H. L. Malchow, Gothic Images of Race in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1996), 9-40; and Marilyn Butler's introduction to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus: The 1818 Text (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1994), ix-li.

2. Franco Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900 (London: Verso, 1998), 70.

3. See Chris Baldick's introduction to The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992), xi-xxiii. See also Robert Mighall's introduction to A Geography of Victorian Gothic Fiction: Mapping History's Nightmares (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999), xiv-xix, 1-26.

4. Mighall, 26, xx.

5. Paulson proposed that Frankenstein "was to some extent a retrospect on the whole process of maturation [of the revolutionary scenario] through Waterloo, with [End Page 488] the Enlightenment-created monster leaving behind its wake of terror and destruction across France and Europe" (239), but he did not develop the implications of this insight for the novel's specific settings.

6. Sterrenburg, 155-57.

7. Abbé [Augustin] Barruel, Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, trans. Robert Clifford, 2nd ed., 4 vols. (London, 1798), 3:2, 9-10, 15-16. Percy Bysshe Shelley used Clifford's translation of Barruel: his copy of the second volume is in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library, as pointed out in the annotation to The Journals of Mary Shelley 1814-1844, ed. Paula R. Feldman and Diana Scott-Kilvert (1987; reprint, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1995), 18-19, where Mary's reading of Barruel is also recorded. M. W. Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, ed. D. L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf, 2nd ed. (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1999), 81-82; vol. 1, ch. 3. Unless otherwise noted, all further citations will be of this edition of the 1818 version, and will hereafter be cited parenthetically by page number, followed by the volume and chapter numbers.

8. Barruel, 4:30 ("code"), 3:414 ("disastrous monster"; "days"), 4:2 ("The monster"). For an elaboration on the concept of "code of law," see Barruel 4:30-4:32. On Weishaupt's double life, see Barruel, 4:22-23.

9. Annual Register, or a View of the History, Politics, and Literature, For the Year 1812 (London, 1813), 173. I am indebted to Ray Garcia for his insight into the relevance of Napoleon's Russian Campaign to the ending of Frankenstein.

10. Paulson, 245.

11. Annual Register, 1812, 178 ("Russian winter"), 180 ("single sledge").

12. Philippe-Paul, Comte de Ségur, La Campagne de Russie, 2 vols. (Paris: Hachette, 1960), 2:116; Count Phillipe-Paul de Ségur, Napoleon's Russian Campaign, trans. J. David Townsend (Cambridge, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1958), 178-79.

13. Mellor suggests that "the creature's funeral pyre" refers to "the final coup de grâce of the French Revolution, Bonaparte's coup of 18-19 Brumaire (November 9-10, 1799)" (238). But Frankenstein's detailed chronological focus on the personal and political events of the 1790s, which has been demonstrated by Mellor and Charles E. Robinson, is supplemented by its political geography, which extends the novel's time frame to, for example, events in Ingolstadt in 1776 and Russia in 1812. Incidents in this novel can have more than one chronological referent. Compare with Mellor, 54-55, 233, 237-38, and Charles E. Robinson's introduction to M. Shelley's The Frankenstein Notebooks, ed. Robinson, 2 parts comprising vol. 9 of The Manuscripts of the Younger Romantics: Shelley (New York: Garland, 1996), 9.1:lxv-lxvi.

14. M. W. Shelley and P. B. Shelley, History of a Six Weeks' Tour (1817; reprint, Oxford: Woodstock, 1989), 101-2. The quoted passage is from M. Shelley's letter, dated 1 June 1816, and included within the History. The parallel with Frankenstein is noted by Jeanne Moskal in her edition of M. W. Shelley's Travel Writing, vol. 8 of The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley (London: Pickering, 1996), 46. The editor documents incorporations of sentences by P. B. Shelley but finds no evidence that the passage about Rousseau and revolution was the work of anyone but M. W. Shelley. Six Weeks' Tour was published less than two months before Frankenstein. For the chronology of publication, see Robinson's introduction to The Frankenstein Notebooks, xc-xci. The location of Plainpalais is shown on a 1770 map of Geneva, [End Page 489] inside the front cover of Histoire de Genève, ed. Paul Guichonnet (Toulouse: Privat, 1974).

15. Francis d'Ivernois, A Short Account of the Late Revolution in Geneva; and of the Conduct of France Towards That Republic, From October 1792, to October 1794, in a Series of Letters to an American, 2nd ed. (London, 1795).

16. R. R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1959-1964), 1:111-39, 2:398-402. Ivernois, 22-36, 24, 29.

17. Poovey, 114-42; Mellor, 70-88, 137; William Veeder, Mary Shelley and Frankenstein: The Fate of Androgyny (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986).

18. David Marshall, The Surprising Effects of Sympathy: Marivaux, Diderot, Rousseau, and Mary Shelley (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1988), 135-233; James O'Rourke, "'Nothing More Unnatural': Mary Shelley's Revision of Rousseau," ELH 56 (1989): 543-69.

19. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, A Discourse on Inequality, trans. Maurice Cranston (Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1984), 98-102.

20. Palmer, Age of Democratic Revolution, 1:111-39, 2:398-99; Rousseau, Politics and the Arts: Letter to M. d'Alembert on the Theatre, trans. Allan Bloom (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1960), 113-37.

21. In M. W. Shelley's novel, however, the De Lacey cottage is in "Germany," not Geneva (150, 158; vol. 2, chap. 6, 7). It is, on one level, an idealization of the honeymoon cottage on Lake Uri, in German-speaking Switzerland, that Mary and Percy had sought in 1814: see M. W. and P. B. Shelley, History, 45.

22. Ivernois, 46-50; Palmer, 2:401-2.

23. Ivernois, 25-26, 42.

24. Rousseau, The Confessions, trans. J. M. Cohen (Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1953), 86-88; O'Rourke, "Mary Shelley's Revision of Rousseau," 559-62.

25. Veeder identifies the pattern of reverse alphabetization, but explains it psychoanalytically as M. W. Shelley's device to critique Victor's (and P. B. Shelley's) negative Oedipus complex (152-53).

26. Rousseau, Confessions, 17-19, 320-22, 332-34.

27. Voltaire, Letters on England, trans. Leonard Tancock (Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1980).

28. Jean Guéhenno, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, trans. John and Doreen Weightman, 2 vols. (London: Routledge, 1966), 2:160-203.

29. See Rousseau's Confessions, 587-602; and Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, trans. Peter France (Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1979), 81-91. M. W. Shelley read both works between 1815 to 1817 (see her Journals, 89, 94, 101, 670).

30. "Among others," she wrote, "we regarded with curiosity the press [Clarendon Press] instituted by the author of the history of the troubles" (M. W. Shelley's The Frankenstein Notebooks, in Manuscripts of 9.2:459-61). Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England Begun in the Year 1641, ed. W. Dunn Macray, 6 vols. (1888; reprint, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), 3:178-190, 2:294, 2:314-15, 3:400, 3:402-04, 3:444-45, 4:23-27, 4:34-37, 4:49-103. Mary read Clarendon's history between late September and late October 1816 (see her Journals, 93, 96, 654).

31. Clarendon, 3:63, 3:64.

32. William Godwin, History of the Commonwealth of England, 4 vols. (London, 1824-1828), 1:11. [End Page 490]

33. P. B. Shelley, Political Writings, ed. Roland A. Duerksen (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1970), 140.

34. Godwin, History of the Commonwealth, 1:14-15.

35. Clarendon, 1:85-86, 3:61.

36. M. W. Shelley, Journals, 181-82; M. W. Shelley, Frankenstein Notebooks, xc.

37. E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (1963; reprint, New York: Random House, 1966), 84, 191, 607-19, 631-49.

38. P. B. Shelley, Political Writings, 147. On the cultural politics of mountains in this novel, see Fred V. Randel, "Frankenstein, Feminism, and the Intertextuality of Mountains," Studies in Romanticism 24 (1985): 515-32.

39. Rousseau, Confessions, 594; book 12.

40. Godwin, Memoirs of the Author of "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" (1798; reprint, New York: Garland, 1974), 176.

41. Exodus 2.3, 2.1-10.

42. Kevin Whelan, The Tree of Liberty: Radicalism, Catholicism and the Construction of Irish Identity 1760-1830 (Notre Dame, IN: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1996), 63, 59-96.

43. Malchow, 11-12.

44. Richard Musgrave, Memoirs of the Different Rebellions in Ireland, From the Arrival of the English: Also, A Particular Detail of That Which Broke Out the 23d of May, 1798; with the History of the Conspiracy Which Preceded It (1801), ed. Steven W. Myers and Delores E. McKnight, 4th ed. (Fort Wayne, IN.: Round Tower Books, 1995), 526-93.

45. See Lew, 255-83, and Malchow, Gothic Images of Race, 9-40, both of whom demonstrate the presence in Frankenstein of systematic allusions to European imperialistic involvements in Asia, Africa, and the West Indies, but they do not relate Clerval's murder to these themes.

46. Sterrenburg, 168-69; Malchow, 34-35.

47. Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, ed. Paul Turner (1986; reprint, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998), 216.

48. See Swift, 216, 217, 219, 274.

49. See Swift, 351n.

50. Musgrave, 4-5.

51. Whelan, 138.

52. Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges, A Dictionary of Surnames (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988), 298.

53. P. B. and M. Shelley, History of a Six Weeks' Tour, 116.

54. See the 9th ed. of the Encyclopaedia Britannica under "Geneva," "Savoy"; see also the 15th ed. of The New Encyclopaedia Britannica: Macropaedia under "Geneva"; and the 15th ed. of The New Encyclopaedia Britannica: Micropaedia under "Savoy, House of." Also, see R. R. Palmer and Joel Colton, A History of the Modern World, 2nd ed. (New York: Knopf, 1962), 170-71, 413-17, 480.

55. P. B. Shelley, 132 ("Despotism"; "Revolution"; "Reform"). See also 113-14.

56. M. W. Shelley, Frankenstein (1831), 35, chap. 1 ("exerted"; "Whether"), 191, chap. 22 ("part"; "inheritance"), 192, chap. 22 ("immediately"; "sleeping"; "spend"). For the Lake Como episode, see 34-35, chap. 1, from this edition.

57. Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel, 11-73.  

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