Creature A Novel of Mary Shelley and FRANKENSTEIN

  • Sea Crow Press
  • 2025

In 1816, a nineteen-year-old single mother wrote a book that transformed our vision of birth, bodies, and who we call “monsters.” Creature: A Novel of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein is her story. From her first spark of inspiration to widowhood at age 24, through the deaths of four of her five children and her struggles to build a writing career, Creature braids Mary Shelley’s little-known life journey with that of her most famous character: Victor Frankenstein’s half-human Creature, who shadows her in alternating chapters as conscience, criminal, and friend. Traveling from London to Italy and into our own technological future, Creature blends historical realism and literary magic to show how a bookish, haunted girl learns to confront her monsters by bringing them to life.

From Creature:

The Creature stumbles down the winding stairs of the laboratory, chasing the father who’s left him behind. The whole rickety structure echoes with his flight, the mice flinching as he ricochets against the thin lath-and-plaster and sagging floorboards behind which they nest and nurse and dream.  And then he’s in the street.  His skin is sticky, his eyes wide, his footsteps wobbling and unstoppable. Rags of clothing float from him like sails from the masts of a ruined ship. The door is open and he’s free. No reason he should ever turn back to that room with its clutter of wires and vats and knives. He only knows the forward-urging hunger of the question that has not yet shaped itself into speech: Father – wait – why not here with me?

For now, he’s alone in the street. There’s a hospital down the block, and a tavern nearby with attic rooms where the medical students sleep, stained and avid and exhausted. Beyond that is a great cattle market where the morning’s business of slaughter is commencing, all holloa and bawl and thud. And beyond that is some great nonhuman force the Creature can’t see although he can feel its silvery insistent aliveness, casting into the air a constant rushing song. Only later will he be able to name it: river.

Under his bare feet, something slick and cold squishes in the gutter. His mouth squares to howl. Then some breeze shifts the clouds and he’s caught by the glitter of dawn sun on a window: a square of pink, shot with gold. He lumbers across the street to stand before it. Behind that glass are objects, shadowed and roosting like doves: rectangular things, some with hard edges and some with soft, some with glossy brown coats and some with grayish-white, made of something that looks, even to the Creature’s unhealed eyes, like his own skin. A sharp hunger spikes in him and twists. If he could touch these objects, he could confirm what he suddenly suspects: they’d leap to his palm and nest there, they’d abide in his giant empty paws, and he’d feel the answering touch of something he can’t yet name companionship against his stitched-together and aching heart. He touches the square of sunlight. It coats his bruised hand with pink and gold. There’s something here he needs.

Beneath his fingertips the glass is cold. He presses harder, but it doesn’t yield.  Rage swells and balls his hand into a fist and smashes it through the glass before his tender wondering brain in its new skull has quite processed the action or the feeling. There’s blood on his hand. A scythe of glass still clinging to the frame is tipped with blood too. An obedient babble wakes in the Creature’s mind: Ergo, glass cuts, Father. Ergo, this is blood in my veins. Ergo, I desire. Ergo, I am alive.  Ergo, his hand is now inside the chilly pencil-dust-smelling air of the shop, and something’s changed.  He’s reaching for the book on its stand, its color soothing the throb of his eyes in their new sockets.  The book. It’s the same pale creamy blue as the sky brightening over the hospital and his father’s open door and the river keeping its own journey on into the next day and the next. Somehow this blue object will explain and soothe the whole bewildering world.

Now the book is heavy in the Creature’s hand, firm and sweetly dusty-smelling in the stinking street. Unlike him, it has a name, stamped in gold on its cover: Works of Milton Volume I. Paradise Lost. There’s comfort in that pattern of lines and curves. The Creature puts his tongue to the blue, but there’s only a cottony nothing in his mouth, a wet dark splodge on the cover. Oh, well. The book is with him now, in whatever this is that will be his life.

Go. Go. Father’s voice erupts in him, urging, scolding, strange. Everyone will see you and they’ll know what I’ve made.  He turns from the broken window and hugs his book against his chest and stumbles toward the river, fighting the bewildering damp prickle in his eyes. He’d have liked to have wrenched open the bookshop door and lifted the books one by one, thrusting his nose into their pages, tasting and smelling. There’s no learning but by doing. Already, dismally, he can tell this is the way of things. And he will not be allowed to do his learning here.

But now there’s a second voice with him, beating like the pulse in his fingers where they clutch the book: The world was all before them, where to choose / Their place of rest, and Providence their guide. / They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow, / Through Eden took their solitary way.  It moves in him like the blood itself in his veins and he hearkens to it and feels them bloom in him: those foreign things so suddenly always-known, those things now never to be strange again, those things called words.

A rumble of wheels around the corner and a driver’s warning shout and then the Creature blinks and he’s somewhere else. Only later will he hazard theories about the nature of this change: a mystery that will be with him throughout the length of what he’ll learn to recognize – bitterly, brutally, wryly – as his existence. For now, he only knows that he’s not alone. For in this elsewhere-space, there is a little girl, and people who circle her, in an intricate story they share. A story of which only the Creature will ever be able to see the entire shape, somewhere in the string of days that will open one by one into what he’ll learn to call the future.  Door into room into another room. Into scene, into chapter. Into story. Into life.