February 22, 2008

The Bride of Scapa Flow

When Frankenstein acquiesced to his Creature’s demand for a mate, more like blackmail than a request, he sought to work in total seclusion, as far from civilization as possible...

“I traversed the northern highlands and fixed on one of the remotest of the Orkneys as the scene of my labours. It was a place fitted for such a work, being hardly more than a rock whose high sides were continually beaten upon by the waves.”

Frankenstein chose well. His destination, off the northern tip of Scotland, is so far off the beaten track that even today, the all-seeing Google Earth can’t provide a complete picture of it.

The Isles of Orkney, over seventy in number, are sparsely populated, but have sustained inhabitants continuously for over five and half thousand years, going back to the late Stone Age. The name “Orkney” is derived from the Old Norse word for “Seal Island”. The main body of water within the island group is called Scapa Flow, and it has played an important role in wartime history.

Frankenstein’s laboratories were humble affairs, nothing like the electrical cathedrals of the movies. The original Monster was created in a small student’s garret in Ingolstadt. The Bride To Be would be shaped in a tiny, “miserable hut” on a windswept, stony beach. Again, there are no clues as to the methods of creation, save for the mention of “chemical instruments”.

Frankenstein labors by day and walks the beach at night, brooding. His work is almost done when, one evening, the potential for catastrophe finally dawns on him. The female Creature “might become ten thousand times more malignant than her mate and delight, for its own sake, in murder and wretchedness.” Frankenstein realizes that “They might even hate each other…” and the Bride could “turn in disgust” from the Creature “to the superior beauty of man; she might quit him, and he be again alone, exasperated by the fresh provocation of being deserted by one of his own species.” These lines would serve as inspiration for James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein.

Worse still, Frankenstein fears that “a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror.

The Monster watches, horrified, as Frankenstein, “trembling with passion” destroys his work, tearing the unfinished Bride to pieces. He packs the gruesome remains in a basket, weighs it down with stones and sets off for the mainland in a skiff, but not before The Monster delivers his terrible promise…

“You, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that gazes on your misery… I shall be with you on your wedding-night."

Out at sea, at night, Frankenstein tosses he basket overboard… “I listened to the gurgling sound as it sank and then sailed away from the spot.”

Frankenstein flees, an implacable, vengeful Monster in murderous pursuit.

The lost Bride, the dismembered mermaid of Scapa Flow, sleeps beneath the cold waves, dreaming of a life that never came.

Orkney’s Official Tourism website.

Orkney Islands of Westray and Papa Westray.

Orkneyjar, the Heritage of the Orkneys.

Scapa Flow, including Wartime Maritime History.


rob! said...

what a cool post.

i like the idea of there still being places on earth that aren't totally mapped out and explored.

Anonymous said...

Question: if Victor Frankenstein didn't want to create a new race of monsters, why didn't he create a sterile female for the monster?

Pierre Fournier said...

Interesting thought, Anonymous. Considering how blasphemous the idea of a man creating life was, I suspect that adding birth control to the tale would have been even further beyond the pale.

Matt J said...

Swedish Bride of Frankenstein poster: