A Man, Not a Monster
by E. B. Fischadler
“The University no longer exists?”
Victor and Tony were looking at the Wikipedia listing for Ingolstadt, Germany. Victor had mentioned he had spent his early years there.
“It says here that the University of Ingolstadt was closed in 1800 by Maximilian IV. There is a modern-day Hochschule in the city, but it is a distinct institution from the ancient university. Why are you interested in the University?”
Victor couldn’t tell Tony the real reason. “I just remember hearing quite a lot about it.”
“You’ve got some vacation coming. Why don’t you go there, see if any of your family is still around?”
* * *
Upon his arrival at Ingolstadt, Victor went to the site of the former university, where he discovered that several ancient buildings still stood. Victor couldn’t tell which building had housed the school of medicine. He also wondered where it was that Frankenstein had lived. The extraordinary nature of Frankenstein’s quest led him to equip his apartment as a laboratory rather than expose it to the faculty and fellow students.
At the town hall, Victor dug through old documents with the help of a clerk.
“A relative attended the school,” Victor explained to the clerk.
“He likely appears in the census records.”
The clerk showed Victor how to access the census documents. After some time, Victor discovered a V. Frankenstein residing at a particular address for six years in the late 1700s. Victor went to that address and found an eighteenth-century building of three stories, comprising two residences: one on the first two floors and another on the third. From what little description appeared in Mary Shelley’s book, Victor surmised that the attic apartment was Frankenstein’s.
Victor could see that the building was occupied; there were drapes in all the windows and flowerboxes in front of windows on each floor. He wanted very much to see the place of his creation, but had no plan. He went to the place several times over a week, wondering what it was like when he had been created.
On one such visit, an elderly man emerged and walked up to Victor. “Would you mind telling me what you are about?” the man asked in German.
Victor was surprised and unsure how to reply. Before he could, the old man repeated his question in English.
“I am sorry, sir. A relative once lived here,” said Victor in German.
“That is well. I was afraid you were another of the American monster movie fans, looking for Frankenstein. Why are you made up like that?”
“Excuse me. Like what?” asked Victor.
“Like some monster.”
“This is not makeup. I am unfortunate in my appearance.”
“I am sorry.”
“I am considering attending the Hochschule and want to get a sense of the city. I am also looking for possible housing.”
“The apartment here is already occupied. There are several others in the city. With luck, you can find one that is available.”
So the house where he had been created would be difficult, if not impossible to access.
Victor considered what to do next. Frankenstein had been born and raised in Geneva. He also returned there for a time after fleeing his creation. Perhaps that was the best place to learn about him.
* * *
In Geneva, Victor obtained a room in a large hotel. Mary Shelley’s book gave him no insight to where the Frankenstein residence might be. As it is common for property to remain in the possession of a single family for many generations, it was likely that a descendent of Frankenstein’s family still resided there.
Victor went to the Geneva hall of records to find where anyone named Frankenstein resided. No such name appeared on the current rolls. Searching back several decades, he could find no record of a Frankenstein.
Victor recalled that Frankenstein’s fiancée and cousin Elizabeth was named Lavenza. She was related to Frankenstein through her mother, who married an Italian and went to Italy. Elizabeth had been adopted by Frankenstein’s family and perished at Victor’s hands. Since she left no progeny, she would not appear in current records of Geneva.
Victor visited a graveyard in hopes of finding the graves of recent members of the Frankenstein family. He found none, but he did discover an old headstone with the partially obliterated name William Fran—, murdered at age 10. Next to William he found Elizabeth Lavenza murdered at age 22. Victor stood there, head bowed. For the first time in almost two hundred years, he shed tears.
In another part of the cemetery, Victor came across a tomb marked Clerval. This brought to mind Frankenstein’s friend Henry Clerval. It seemed likely that some of his family might still reside here. Victor went to the city hall where he asked a clerk for assistance.
“Who is it you seek?”
“I am of German descent, with family origins in Switzerland. I do not believe there is any record of my family here, but we were closely connected with the family Clerval.”
“Ah, there is a Franz Clerval in Geneva. Perhaps he is of the family you seek.”
The town clerk in Geneva was not allowed to give Victor contact information for Franz Clerval. But Henry Clerval’s family had been successful merchants for several generations. This gave the Victor the means to get in touch with Franz Clerval.
The clerk said, “The Clerval family business is wine and food imports. They have an office not far from here.” She wrote down the address on a card and gave Victor directions.
* * *
Before long, Victor arrived at the office of Clerval Imports. The receptionist was startled to see a very large man with significant facial scarring walk in the door. Victor had chosen to dress formally when he went to the clerk’s office. That served him here as well; the receptionist took him for a businessman.
“Do you have business with us?” she asked.
“I wish to meet with Mr. Clerval, if it would be convenient,” replied Victor.
The receptionist consulted her computer. “He does have an appointment at the moment but could meet with you at three o’clock. Would a half-hour be sufficient?”
“What I have to discuss with him may require considerably more time, but I do wish to begin today. Three o’clock would suit me well. Thank you.”
“Whom should I tell Doctor Clerval to expect?”
“My name is Victor Frenchstone.”
Victor chose to give the English version of his name. Had he called himself Victor Frankenstein, Clerval would likely have refused to meet him.
“And what is the nature of your business?”
Victor thought for a moment then said, “It is a family matter.”
The receptionist raised her eyebrows, then typed something on her computer. “Three o’clock, then, sir.”
Victor had an hour to kill. He walked around the block trying to get a feel for Geneva. He had been here almost two hundred years before and had no memory of the place. At three o’clock, Victor returned to the office of Clerval Imports.
“Mr. Frenchstone, Doctor Clerval is just finishing with another appointment. He will be with you in a few minutes. May I get you coffee? Tea? Wine?”
“Coffee would be nice, thank you. “
She returned with the coffee at the same time that Franz Clerval opened his office door. He bid farewell to his visitor in German, then glanced at Victor. Clerval seemed taken aback a second, then regained his composure.
“I’m Franz Clerval. My receptionist tells me this is a family matter. Are we related?”
“No. If I may have some of your time, I can explain the connection between our families.”
Clerval paused a moment, then said, “Please, come into my office.”
Victor entered the office. It was bright with windows spanning one wall, light colored walls and carpet. A large desk dominated one end of the room, and a table with chairs was set opposite.
“Please, take a seat at the table.”
Victor managed to squeeze into a chair. Clerval sat opposite.
“How are our families connected?”
“Some two hundred years ago, my ancestor and your ancestor were close friends and attended university together. I was born in Germany and spent much of my life in America. I’ve come to Geneva to learn about my past.”
“There are extensive family records at the town hall.”
“Unfortunately, my family history does not appear there. Your family history does.”
“Are you certain your ancestor lived in Geneva?”
“Yes, though I can’t at present tell you how I know this. But I am certain of it. I did find his residence at Ingolstadt, where he attended university. But the trail leads here.”
“Ingolstadt? That university closed centuries ago. How far back did you say our ancestors knew each other?”
“About two hundred years.”
“And who were these ancestors?”
“Your ancestor was Henry Clerval.”
Clerval winced at this. “Are you a writer looking for background? A lunatic? Who are you, really?”
Victor looked at Clerval for a moment. Then he said, “Henry’s mother was named Ilse. His father was Wolfgang.”
“I don’t have any relatives named Ilse, nor any Wolfgang.”
“Sir, I know you have another appointment. Check the book: those names do not appear anywhere in it. Then consult your family history. I’ll leave my telephone number with your secretary.”
With that, Victor got up and left. Clerval had little time to wonder; his next appointment was already waiting.
* * *
The phone in Victor’s hotel room rang. “Mister Frenchstone?”
“Yes, this is Victor Frenchstone.”
“Sir, I am Elke, Doctor Clerval’s receptionist. Could you meet with Doctor Clerval at his office tomorrow?”
The call came just three days after Victor’s meeting with Franz Clerval. Victor had no way of knowing how long it would take Clerval to check on his ancestors’ names, nor even if he would.
“Yes, whenever it is convenient.”
“Doctor Clerval has cleared his calendar beginning at 10 am. Could you arrive at that time?”
At 10 o’clock the next day, Victor was shown into Clerval’s office. Clerval said to his receptionist, “We are not to be interrupted except for an emergency.”
Victor sat in one of the chairs at the table; Clerval sat opposite. Between them was an old, musty book. A paper marked a specific page.
“This was in the library at castle Clerval. It goes back to the time you mention.”
He opened to the marked page. “There is a Henry Clerval, son of Wolfgang and Ilse Clerval. Tell me, how did you know this?”
“From my family history.”
“Is your name really Frankenstein?”
“No. To be truthful I have no given name. I adopted the name Frenchstone when I arrived in America.”
Clerval pondered a moment. “The history says Henry Clerval was murdered by a Frankenstein.”
“In a sense, he was.”
“Then there is bad blood between us?”
“That’s entirely up to you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Consider my size. No doubt, you’ve noticed the extensive scarring on my face. There are many more such scars hidden by my clothing.”
Clerval frowned. “Were you in a terrible accident?”
“No. I’ve had these scars my entire life.”
“No one is born with such scars. You say you did not get them in an accident?”
“Have you read Mary Shelley’s book?”
Clerval gasped. “That drivel! My family, as well as yours, is very unfortunate in her choice of names.”
“Consider this: A teenage girl who has limited education and has never before written, invents a story. Over a few years she embellishes that story and publishes it. That part is plausible, as she was the lover of a well-regarded writer.
“Few people would have the means to know this but the story uses real people as characters. Family records confirm that most of these people existed and, in the case of your ancestor, the cause of death. Is that book pure fiction or a record of actual events?”
“How could she have come to know these events?”
“That I don’t know. It just seems to me that there is more than coincidence at work here.”
“The one event of my ancestor’s death is far from adequate to establish that this book is true.”
“Unfortunately, my family records seem to have disappeared. If I could discover them, I might be able to prove or disprove this theory.”
“I doubt you’ll ever find them. The Frankenstein name has been expunged from all records. People here don’t want to be associated with a horror story. Cranks come around looking for artifacts.”
“And you think I’m one of those cranks?”
“I did when you first appeared. Now, I don’t know for sure who you are. You seem to be asking me to believe you are something, excuse me, someone from a novel. Mr. Frenchstone, is that your real name, or are you named Frankenstein?”
“In fact, I was never given a name. I am told I was named for my... father.”
Clerval sighed, and took a sip of coffee while he considered.
“If I am to believe this, then I must also believe that you are the monster. That you were created by a madman who defied God and died trying to kill you in order to rectify his mistake. Further, if I believed this, then I am facing in you the killer of my ancestor, as well as the murderer of others.”
“Or that I was a misbegotten being, rejected by my creator, driven mad by that rejection, but in the end remorseful.”
“If I recall correctly, you said you would go to the farthest north and kill yourself. How can you be here?”
“That I don’t know. I only wish to learn about my history, about the genius who gave me life and what really happened two hundred years ago.”
“Mr. Frenchstone, you must understand this sounds insane, or like some sort of ruse. Are you after money?”
“Dr. Clerval, I should be insulted by that question. But I understand this seems implausible, and I have learned there are many who try to exploit our family histories for entertainment.”
“And I can’t help wondering if you are one of them!”
“I have lived almost two hundred years seeking that which people like you take for granted. You are the only connection I have to my past. I’ve shown I know some history which does not appear in the public record. Can you not help me?”
“I cannot, sir. Now, I have another appointment. Please excuse me.”
* * *
After Frenchstone left, Clerval sat considering. Was Frankenstein indeed real? Was he a genius who carried his science one step too far and paid with his life? Was this Frenchstone actually the monster? Was he indeed a monster, or a tormented soul, only killing out of unbearable rejection?
More likely, he’s some maniac. Or perhaps he’s insane. Whatever trauma gave him that hideous appearance must also have deranged his mind. When next he appears, I’ll make clear that I want nothing more to do with him.
Suddenly Clerval heard tires squeal, followed by a thump and shouting. The realization hit him that his son was due to arrive at the office. He rushed out to the street. Clerval saw a Mercedes angled to the traffic. From across the street he heard a familiar voice shout, “Father!” He rushed to his wife and son standing just feet away from the car, visibly shaken.
As he hugged them both, Clerval asked, “What happened?”
His wife and child just clung to him, crying. A man next to Clerval said, “That car came careening around the corner, straight toward these two. The giant pushed them out of the way. He saved them.”
Looking around, Clerval asked, “What giant?”
Pointing toward the front of the car, the man said, “Him.”
Clerval turned and saw a large figure lying on the street half under the front bumper of the Mercedes.
“Victor!” he shouted, and bent down to the figure.
Frenchstone stirred. How he could have survived the impact was a mystery. “Are they all right?” he asked in a weak voice.
* * *
The Clerval chair was endowed at the Ingolstadt Hochschule six months later. After many long visits to the Geneva Hospital, the chair’s benefactor wanted to name it the Frenchstone chair, but Victor gracefully declined.
Copyright © 2016 by E. B. Fischadler