The Picnic

The Picnic

[Fixing Frankenstein chapters]

Here’s the one we want to write. The happiest one. A continuation of “Don’t Abandon Me”, where Frankenstein and Clerval have raised the Monster up right, and Frankenstein has made him a companion, and everyone lives happily ever after in Geneva on a lovely sprawling estate, reading, writing poetry, conversing, sketching and otherwise living the dream. We’ll use “Vuh” and “Lee” for the monster names (“Lee” plus “Vuh” equals “LeeVuh” equals kind of “Liebe” equals “love” equals (per Spinoza’s math) “nothing but joy with the accompanying idea of an external cause” equals “hmmm”.

Our scene takes place on a sunny summer midday, beside an old willow, next to the small creek fluttering through the verdure. It may (or may not — we just don’t know) be an anachronism, but let’s please also provide them with red and white checkered picnic blankets spread over the grasses. And wicker picnic baskets full of cucumber sandwiches, apples, nuts and seeds, a canteen of water plus a glass pitcher and glasses; and for dessert a chocolate torte baked with a merry doting smile by a fat-armed cook in bepowdered white apron and bonnet.

The Senior Frankenstein (Alphonse’s his Christian name), in a straw hat, white dress shirt, country-roving tweed-trousers, and sharp-toed brown-leather boots, sits on a fallen log with a quarter of a sandwich in each hand. William and Ernst — the former thin and flat-chested, the latter developing a man’s brawn, wearing only square-cut navy-blue shorts that don’t quite reach their knee-caps, their shirts, hats, shoes and socks neatly arranged on the sandy far-bank at that point where the creek’s steeper near-bank bends around the old willow — splash through the the cool waters hunting for crayfish, frogs, and minnows. Now they catch a crayfish and cradling it in scooped hands, run to show their father, who peers over and smiles indulgently while arching spine and shirt away and holding sandwiches far out to the sides.

Elizabeth, Justine and Lee sit on one blanket, all but the latter beneath pretty, dome-shaped purple parasols. They’re laughing at the Senior Frankenstein’s polite abhorrence of having a writhing crustacean splashing about near his fine silk shirt and within smelling-distance of his cucumber-and-butter-on-whole-rye sandwich. Soon they’ll resume their conversation about the merits and deficiencies of a popular poet’s most recent volume — a work eagerly awaited throughout Europe and beyond, but now meeting with a rather tepid reception — a reception which two of the three find unjust.

Vuh, Clerval, and Victor are arranged cross-legged in a little circle on another blanket, each nursing an apple, their conversation turning now towards Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Die Leiden des Jungen Werthers, first published in 1774, with a revised edition released 1787.

“It is the story of a young man, a very young man, a young man’s story.”

“Are we not yet young men?”

“The fellow simply goes too far! From the beginning! His exultation in nature, in simple folk, in Lotte herself — it’s all really an exultation in his own fine feelings. And why are they so fine? Because he’s 20 years old and needn’t work, but can instead spend his time reading his Homer, pursuing a little recreational light gardening, taking coffee and beer in the local establishment, conversing, dancing, tossing kingly alms to the underclass, and otherwise avoiding any impediment to fine feelings and self-satisfactions!”

“And yet in following that course he does indeed run aground. With nothing but idle time to fan his overripe emotions, he’s soon depressed beyond all help. Of course, the anguish over not winning Lotte begins, like everything else in his world, as a deliciously large, juicy, and showy emotion; but soon it really does overpower him, leading eventually to his destruction.”

“But this is precisely my point! He takes everything too far, and more because he’s full of himself than because his soul is any more beautiful than anyone else’s! He’s a spider spinning a web of self-satisfied feelings that eventually traps itself in its own sticky designs!”

“Speaking of going too far! The two of you overlook entirely the innocence, the sincerity, the sweetness of this lad! You act as though he were a criminal whose crime eventually caught up with him, rather than a thoughtful, winning, and remarkable young man who, through a combination of external circumstances and youthful excesses and blunders, wanders into a terrible tragedy. Werther’s not perfect, but he’s as much a living, breathing human as ever graced the pages of literature, and he deserves our consideration and sympathy!”

“Perhaps you’re right. Perchance, my intolerance of Werther is an intolerance of the selfsame urges, longings, and weaknesses within myself — excesses and frailties of spirit which we all possess and whose proper administration is never an easy, nor obvious task.”

“In any case, it seems a dreadful shame. If only there were a way to intercede. If only we could reach Werther in time, coax the pistol from him, turn his mind towards wider vistas and deeper truths, and ferry him out of that dark era. Who knows what kind of a man he’d become?!”

“Ah, but we do know. He’d become a great man of letters and science, living to this day fully creative and well-respected up there in Weimar.”

This quip, which played upon the assumption that Goethe’s “Werther” was rather more than less autobiographical, received the round of pleasant, perhaps in one-of-two cases merely-polite, laughter that it deserved. And a lull ensued, in which the conversants were free to breathe the fresh clean country air, and revel in the bright warmth of endless summer.

But Victor Frankenstein had a secret, and, promising a quick return, he dashed off to grab his newest invention, the Fiction Portal.

A Fiction Portal is a most ingenious and amazing mechanical device that allows flesh and blood humans to pass directly into fictional realities. Fictional realities, for those who don’t know, are spawned when books are created, read, contemplated, and (inside one mind or amongst many) discussed. The firmness of a fictional reality depends upon the worthiness of the literature and the scope, intensity, and quality of public participation.

Die Leiden des Jungen Werthers, as well as its various translations (like, for example, the English version, The Sorrows of the Young Werther) had all created quite firm fictional realities throughout Europe — beginning with its 1774 publication, growing as it spread (it was first published in English in 1779), and continuing even into this scene on a rolling country estate outside 1818 Geneva (Switzerland [Mary Shelley published her Frankenstein on January 1, 1818; though the book was begun in Geneva in the Summerless Summer of 1816 (a cold damp summer for much of the world, including Europe, that year, due we now think to a volcanic explosion in the then Dutch East Indies / now Indonesia)]). Of course, these language-specific fictional realities all to some extent overlap; and in their common center lies the clearest and most lifelike fictional reality. But one must choose a language of entry, and as all present were fluent in German, and as the book’s original creation took place in and was published in that most Germanic of languages, German was the obvious choice.
The following, then, is an account of the time that Victor, Clerval, Lee, Vuh, Elizabeth and Justine travelled to Walheim to save Werther from himself.

[Editor’s linguistic aside: We permit our authors some artistic license, but we don’t want to fill the world with half-facts and other harebrained schemes. We therefore here note, and hope that our readership will pause to consider, that it is not really fair to call modern German language “the most Germanic of languages”. If there could be a most Germanic of all languages, it would probably have to be whatever language originally gave rise to all the Germanic languages — at any rate, there’s no reason to nominate today’s German for being the language most emblematic of the German languages throughout their long, abrupt-syllabled, globe-trotting existence. And if I were to nominate a language as “the most Germanic of modern, yet-spoken languages”, I think I’d probably choose Icelandic. It’s retained more of its old rules than the other Germanic languages have. What is the least Germanic of the modern, yet-spoken Germanic languages? That’s easy. It has to be English — what with it’s shedding of male and female articles, its abandonment of almost all verb changes, its forgetting of pretty much all declensions (changing of noun, pronoun or adjective as the grammatical case changes), and its extensive fraternizing with the Latin languages through French, French, French! Is modern English even a language at all? Or is it rather a pidgin language, spoken by the hoi polloi whilst lank Normans lounge about their clammy caste(-l)s chattering on about “Dieu et mon doit” and “Honi soit qui mal y pense”? (]

Author: Bartleby Willard
Editor: Amble Whistletown
Copyright: Andy Watson

[Fixing Frankenstein chapters]

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