This is a slightly different post to what we usually feature but an interesting one nonetheless.
PJ didn’t want to go in too heavy to force a thesis down reader’s throats with this post, but wanted to re-open a dialogue to get people thinking, maybe re-read one of the most iconic novels of all time. He asks questions in his post that are relevant to the world we live in and its discriminations and pre conceived perceptions of today.
About PJ Parker
P.J. Parker was born and raised in rural Australia. With a Bachelor of Science Architecture Degree from the University of New South Wales he has travelled and lived extensively around the world, focusing on cultures of historic interest and buildings of architectural significance before transitioning into a career as a Fraud Analyst and Programmer with a leading International Financial Institution. An avid reader and researcher, P.J.’s writing is undertaken with a passionate and exacting degree of attention to detail. P.J is the author of historic fictions “Roxelana and Suleyman”, “Fire on the Water: A Companion to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” (The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House) and the upcoming “AMERICA: Túwaqachi, The Saga of an American Family” which follows a single family line through 37,000 years of North American history.
A dissection of Frankenstein’s wretch and homosexuality.
In 1816 England, homosexuality was considered an unnatural crime, punishable by death. However, illicit encounters at Molly Houses (Mother Clap’s being the most infamous) were second only to the relationships nurtured in the male-only institutions of an Empire that refused to accept the growing libertine culture and its tendency toward easy-going sexuality. The Elite, when possible, escaped the strictures of Mother England for the more open viewpoint of European communities. Creative minds flourished on the shores of Lake Geneva, along the trails of Cinque Terre, in the gardens of Provence, and within the unconventional societies of Bohemian Paris.
Perhaps the most well-known of these European tourists were Lord George Byron and his ‘doctor’, Doctor John Polidori, accompanied by Percy and Mary Shelley. Authors. Poets. Lovers.
It was within this environment, ignited by a ghost-story competition, that Mary Shelley dared to ask what was and was not natural. Should anyone that merely wishes to be acknowledged and loved by his creator and fellow man be shunned and disdained, ridiculed, accused of being unnatural and evil, thought wretched and monstrous, a hideous creation that needed to be relegated to an ice-covered hell far from civilization? When published, Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN: OR THE MODERN PROMETHEUS caused uproar, controversy, excitement. But it also opened a dialogue that is yet to complete.
What is natural and what is not?
Who has a right to a happy life and who does not?
Who may be considered less in a society due to their thoughts, activities and inclinations?
And who has the right to decide?
The internationally-acclaimed, popular historic fiction FIRE ON THE WATER: A COMPANION TO MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN, continues the dialogue – not only investigating the society and thoughts of the 18 year old girl that dared to dip her quill into the ink of her horrific waking dreams, but also asking whether society and possibilities have changed since her words were written. Dual time-lines, (modern day and 1816), intertwine and interact upon each other throughout the work – sutured together when a Biographer researching the life of Mary Shelley opens a document box containing personal possessions and letters. The current day timeline is procedural with unexpected incisions. The 1816 timeline evokes an Austen-esque subtlety—indicators of proclivity apparent but open to interpretation. Both timelines will only be fully understood by those readers that dare to confront the horror of true love.
Extract from the companion novel
Mister Percy Bysshe Shelley
The Hotel de l’Union
France July 1816
My darling romantic; my lyric Bysshe,
I was so pleased to receive your correspondence this morning, just as I have been every morning since our parting. I trust your adventures in the Alps continue to be thrilling and that Lord Byron is not enticing you into too much danger. Please give our regards to George and remind him daily that you are mine. (Please also hint to him to write more often to Doctor Polidori. Though they are both men of the world and traveling their own paths, John is never more happy than when he holds the prose of Lord Byron in his hands, his lips caressing their eloquent beauty.)
Your previous letter detailing the climb to Mont Blanc’s summit has been enjoyed immensely by all who reside here at the villa. We’ve been thrilled by the vivid descriptions of the Alps and valleys, the cathedrals of nature soaring higher and with more majesty than man could possibly construct, encrusted with the wind-chiseled drifts of snow and ancient frozen glacial waters that creep from the Mont’s summit down through crevice and crag to the valley floor and the environs of Chamonix itself! I read your words aloud after supper last evening, then handed the letter around so that all might see your splendid handwriting and envision your escapade over their port and cigars. The younger men have all vowed to follow your footsteps up that glacial terrain. I am so proud of you, my darling.
Polidori continues to work with the gendarmerie on the situation here. His schedule is quite erratic. Often he is with me throughout the day with no word from the authorities, only to be disturbed from his bedchamber in the middle of the night and taken to inspect and report on some poor soul found in a desolate lane, muddy gutter, or decaying outbuilding. Other times I have gone a complete day without his company, relying on Willmouse, Claire, and my books and writing for entertainment. (My ghost story has progressed well in Montreux—a few short days more and it will be complete.)
I was able to catch a brief conversation with Polidori this morning. It seems the gendarmerie have been alerted to a chalet up in the Hauts-de-Montreux. There are suspicions that it is intimately involved with the score of desecrations and murders of the past months. I am hoping John returns to the villa before I retire this evening—it would be comforting to know the wretch behind these deeds has been secured and is no longer a threat to this otherwise peacefully beautiful Riviera town.
Now, my darling,
A conversation with Polidori from last night has me thoughtful and intrigued. I will relay it to you here in full as best my memory serves me, as I value your opinion on these matters.
It started at the supper table. The chef had just scraped ample portions of raclette onto our plates, and the sommelier had poured an exquisite Savoie wine. Claire was engaged in an important tête-à-tête of her own while I was between a matron, who prefers no conversation while she eats, and Polidori, who seemed particularly silent and fidgety. He drummed his fingers against the tablecloth, then stroked the stem of his glass, then realigned the cutlery so it was all exact.
“Doctor Polidori?” I whispered. “You seem worried.”
He glanced sideways as he skewered his potato and cut it precisely and efficiently, almost surgically, into small bite-sized chunks. Before he lifted his fork to his mouth, he said, “I keep thinking about the girl.”
“The woman found in—”
“Yes, that girl.” He cut me off as he caught the eye of the matron beside me. “I cannot fathom how she fits into this . . . this story.” He gave the matron a courteous nod.Sensing she was extremely interested in a conversation that had not even started, I followed Polidori’s premise so as not to alarm the matron with the details of the girl found murdered in the cemetery and the horrors that are a part of our everyday deliberations. “Perhaps the . . . author’s vision could no longer be satisfied solely by male . . . characters.”
“But logically,” Polidori said, “if you and I are to continue on our original conjecture—that the parts of the many will make up the one—the single perfect one—then why would the woman be required? Surely the author’s lust would have been satiated by the bodies of the men, and therefore no woman would be necessary.”
The matron let out a short, sharp, shrill gasp that caught the attention of all at the dining table. I turned and fanned her with my napkin as she had turned a bright scarlet—definitely from our conversation, and not the gherkin she avidly blamed afterward. The sommelier poured her more wine, and she imbibed it in a hefty gulp. She patted her abundant décolletage and assured us all of her good health, begging everyone to return to their supper and conversation. I noted how she moved her chair a few inches closer to mine as she resettled herself and asked the chef to scrape more raclette onto her plate.
“Do you not think, Polidori, that any good story must have both strong male and female protagonists to come to a successful conclusion?” I asked.
“Perhaps. I do not know. I myself would have remained more than satisfied if only men had been involved.” A fork clattered to the floor beside me, and the matron made several apologetic noises. I could not suppress a slight smile, but then Polidori went on. “Bringing a woman into the story at this stage can have but one purpose . . .”
It was three hours and several courses, followed by my reading of your letter and the consumption of port and cigars, before it was convenient for Polidori to complete his sentence. We had strolled about the garden and now sat on the edge of the Diana fountain.
“. . . and that is sexual.”
I thought about the context. “The girl found in the cemetery—she was strangled and bludgeoned?” I asked in confirmation of a previous conversation. Polidori nodded. “And what was missing again?”
“The frontal lobes of her brain had been incised and removed.”
“And what else?” He shook his head, but I now know our gentle friend too well—it was easy to see he was withholding. “There is something more, isn’t there?” I asked as softly as I was able. He began to fidget. He pulled a cigar from his frock coat, clipped off the end, and lit it. His cheeks puffed out as he took a drag, his mouth filling with the pungent smoke. The smoke escaped his lips to curl about the statue of Diana and wisp into the foliage at her back. “What else, John?” I repeated as he mellowed before me.
“I am afraid there are events in this case that I have not told even you, Mary.”
“That is understandable, given the horror of these circumstances.”
“I have only told you about the first woman.”
“The first?” I suddenly realized the genre of our dialogue, but not the plot.
“Yes, there have been four in total over the last three days.”
“Oh my.” My mind went blank, but then I knew. “He needs a companion—he needs a bride. Of course he does,” I muttered, more to myself than to Polidori, as my thoughts turned toward my ghost story and not the events sapping the life from Montreux. “Polidori, these women . . . please tell me of them. I think I must know their circumstances—not only to comfort you and the anguish I see in your demeanor, but also to know and protect myself. Please tell me.”
“Very well. The first in the cemetery you know of. Victoria was petite and pretty, but it was not the external presentation that drew our adversary toward her. The detective in charge of the case informed me that she was thought of as intelligent, well read in the sciences, and astute in the management of a residence. All her sisters had married well and kept their intellectual husbands amused and under control. As you know, a portion of her brain was removed.
“The second was Adelaide, a governess recently arrived from Zurich to tend to the children of a wealthy merchant whose wife had died with the birth of their last child. Investigation discovered that Adelaide had trained for over a decade in ballet. She was lithe and very, very strong. This young girl’s legs and arms were cut from her torso, her body discarded on the rocky shore of Lake Geneva.
“Which brings us to last night. I was again woken from my slumber by a hand pressed upon my chest. At first I thought it a dream and was quite content to allow it to play out, but then caught the pleasant waft of breath and knew someone was truly with me in my chamber and not some apparition of sleepy imaginings. I opened my eyes to see the young Gendarme Jaecar who has escorted me these last weeks. He led me down to the porte cochère where we mounted steeds and rode off into the night, as he expected the terrain would not be adequate for a carriage. We ventured up through the Haut and deep into the forestation covering the lower Alps. I did not understand the gendarme’s pronunciation of the hamlet name, but suffice to say it was a quaint situation of no more than five chalets, where all occupants were related by one manner or another. The lights of the chalets blazed and I could see people milling about through the unshuttered windows, wringing their hands in worry or sobbing against a relation’s breast. I myself was choked by a sob without being aware of the cause.
“The gendarme led me to the chalet on the farthest edge of the hamlet. He placed one hand on the door and another on my shoulder as he whispered, ‘Docteur Polidori, ils étaient des jumeaux. They were twins—twin girls.’
“I could see the dread in his eyes, could feel the shake that passed from his hand to my shoulder. I grasped his hand in empathy and nodded my understanding before proceeding into the small wooden abode.
“The inside of the home was brightly lit, though there was no sign of parents, spouses, or siblings—just the detective and gendarmes on the case. I surmised the family members had been moved to a nearby chalet to grieve their loss. The home was one large room—barn-like—with sleeping alcoves curtained off below, and a loft above reached by a simple ladder. The detective leaned over the edge of the upper level and motioned for me to accompany him. I climbed the ladder with my bag, wary of what I would soon confront. The higher I climbed, the more aware I was that the twins were up there, the sweet smell of fresh blood almost overpowering my senses.
“I could never, however, be prepared for what I was to see. As my eyeline rose to the upper floor I saw a bare foot—elegant, diminutive, and attractive. Then a second. A third. A fourth. Their legs lay askew across the mattress on the floor, devoid of connecting torso.
“Next I was aware of arms—gracefully slender arms, hands, and fingers—excised and stacked neatly in the corner between two large beams that held the roof aloft.
“One torso had been removed from the room completely, no sign of it within the chalet. The other had been sliced open, major organs stolen, skin peeled back from the redundant muscle and absconded with.
“Their heads . . . well . . . I will not hide that the detective and myself shared many tears as we crouched in the loft amongst the remains of the twins. The girls had once been very beautiful. Strangely . . . they still were.”
Polidori puffed on his cigar. I sat beside him upon the fountainhead and watched in silence as his succor glowed in the darkness, as it inched less and less, the radiant head moving closer and closer to his lips. There was no way I would disturb his reverie, the subtle solace in the thickness and heat he held between his lips and teeth. We sat, both lost within our own thoughts, even after the parlor light was extinguished and we were left in the comforting darkness of night.
My dear Percy, I agree with Polidori’s observation that the purpose of these latest murders can only be sexual. No matter how deviant, to desecrate or kill someone of the same sex is one matter. But to then transfer those desires and actions to the opposite sex, to so avidly touch the flesh of another gender in such an intimate fashion, to explore and choose, select and maneuver, cut and take . . . there is something immorally inspired, something obscenely sexual in this most basic, physical urge toward creativity, toward survival by whatever means possible.
I must finish now, my darling, that my letter might make the morning service to Chamonix. We will continue our discussion tomorrow.
Love, as always,
(Kisses from Willmouse.)
Post Script: There is a grand supper to be held at Château de Chillon this coming Saturday. Polidori has agreed to escort me in your stead. Don’t be jealous, my dear. (George, however, is allowed to be.)
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