A Monster's Notes - By Laurie Sheck


I long for some circumstance that may assure me that I am not utterly disjointed from my species

these hauntings of the mind and very tenderly to prove

My dearest Hogg my baby is dead—Will you come you are so calm a creature & Shelley is afraid

into the regions of frost crushed by fortune—I am nothing—

It became necessary that I should conceal myself

But I am not confined to my own identity I am still here still thinking still existing

I shrank from the monster—he held out his hand but I couldn’t touch it Yours tenderly Your Exiled, I am &c &c Addio Cara Mia

I am, Sir

Your obedient Srv’

Mary Shelley

London, Milan, Naples, Pisa, Marlow, Geneva, Leghorn, Florence, Genoa, Rome, Cadenabbia, Paris … The handwriting in gray or chestnut ink, in the early years sometimes accompanied by her husband’s; sometimes the letters are turned sidewise, the text continuing over the first in the practice of cross-writing used to save paper in the nineteenth century. Of her Frankenstein copybooks, the first, “Notebook A,” as it’s now known, survives as seventy-seven leaves of laid paper with a light blue tint and five sewing holes along the side. The paper was probably purchased in Geneva. The second, Notebook “B,” consists of seventy-five surviving pages on thicker, British, cream-colored paper. The bindings and covers of both notebooks have long since disappeared. On the first notebook’s pages she penciled in a left-hand margin, and there Percy Shelley left his comments and marks. Picture two hands moving side by side, she writing “creature,” he (in some impulse of tenderness, kindness?) crossing it out, replacing it with “being.”

I open one of her letters and a clear envelope containing a lock of auburn hair falls out. A lock she’d sent to her friend Hogg. Often the paper is thin and worn, and many of the letters are held within larger envelopes stamped with an auction-house purchase number and date of sale. This strange condition of ownership, what would her monster have thought of it? And she, who was often short of money.

By the time she died of a brain tumor at age fifty-four, twenty-nine years after her husband’s drowning, and thirty-four years after the writing of Frankenstein, erratic undiagnosed symptoms had mostly kept her from writing for over a decade. Her monster long behind her by then, and all but one of her children long dead.

So much of a life is invisible, inscrutable: layers of thoughts, feelings, outward events entwined with secrecies, ambiguities, ambivalences, obscurities, darknesses strongly present even to the one who’s lived it—maybe especially to the one who’s lived it. Why should it be otherwise? I didn’t seek to find her, wandered instead within and among her fragments of language—notebooks, drafts, journals, fictions, letters, essays, and found there whole worlds like spinning planets, lived in their cold light and burning light, wondering where I was, where they might take me. Curious, I heard a monster’s voice and followed—

NYC, MAY 31, 2008

A Letter

June 30, 2007

Dear Mr. Emilson,

This is to inform you that the final closing on your building on East Street was successfully completed at 10:15 this morning. I have deposited the check as you instructed. The new owners will begin renovations tomorrow. In our previous communications, I asserted that the structure, now in great disrepair, was completely abandoned. However, yesterday afternoon as I made my last walk-through, I found on the second floor a short note, a manuscript wrapped in a rubber band, and an old computer. As these technically belong to you, please let me know if you would like them forwarded to your London address. I have not unbound the manuscript, but reproduce for you here the short note left on top:

So much blurs … I write then forget what I write … walk these streets, a stranger to myself and others … Then sometimes it all suddenly flares back—my breath catches, my brain aches. How long have I wandered, talking in my thoughts to the one who made me from dead, discarded things, then left me? Why did he need to see me as frightful, misbegotten? I know he’ll never hear, never answer.

Walking, I remember the other ones as well, those three I watched though none of them could see me. Isn’t seeing a wounding and caressing both? All of them gone now, though once I held them with my secret eyes and in my own way loved them. Mary, Claire, Clerval … All those hours they visited me in air, came to me as voices made of flesh,