The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

Taylor Teifke, Memorial Staff Writer

In 1818, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote a short ghost story on a dare. Two hundred years later, her book Frankenstein has been the subject of countless retellings and formed the basis of a number of films. Young-adult author Kiersten White’s 11th novel, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, is a remarkable reimagination of a story that started science-fiction as a media genre and may very well have changed the world.

The story is told from the perspective of Elizabeth Lavenza, who was Victor Frankenstein’s cousin in Shelley’s original 1818 edition of Frankenstein and then his unrelated adopted sister in the 1833 rewrite. She is portrayed in Shelley’s story as being exceptionally beautiful and completely devoted to Victor, continuously writing him letters and acting as a positive force against Victor’s guilt at creating the infamous monster.

White’s story depicts Elizabeth in a much different manner. Instead of the perfect, innocent girl madly in love with Victor, the new Elizabeth is cunning, calculating and highly intelligent. She is worried for her future, as the Frankenstein family is plagued by debt and Elizabeth, due to her status as a ward to the Frankensteins, fears she may be cast out to fend for herself. In order to avoid this, she pretends to be the perfect girl for Victor to show his family that she is important enough to stay. While ensuring that she becomes a permanent fixture in the Frankenstein household, she inevitably uncovers Victor’s descent into madness over his obsession of creating life and horrifying willingness to sacrifice human lives to do so.

I enjoyed how White incorporated events and characters from the original Frankenstein into her version. For instance, Elizabeth mentions in The Dark Descent that Victor became inspired to create life after a tree at his house was struck by lightning during a storm, which was also a major event in Shelley’s story. White also introduced new characters and events that developed Elizabeth as a unique character compared to other fictional protagonists in young-adult fiction, as very few exhibit the amount of intellect, cleverness and realistic flaws that Elizabeth had.

White’s novel is a fantastic example of a story adapted from a classic piece of literature. It is perfect for readers seeking adventure in historical or science-fiction.

Contact Taylor Teifke at [email protected].