Excerpt of The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd
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Bysshe was beside me, and I heard him speak approvingly to a companion about a Gothic tale written some years previously, The Fatal Ring by Isaac Crookenden.
"Oh, no," I said. "You must read the novels of Eisner for pure sensation."
Of course he noticed my accent at once. "You admire the German tales of terror?"
"I do. But I am not a German. I am by birth a Genevese."
"The nurse of liberty! Of Rousseau and Voltaire! Why, sir, have you come here to the home of tyranny and oppression?" I had not heard such sentiments before, having been accustomed to think of England as the source of political freedoms, and Bysshe laughed at my expression of surprise. "You have not lived among us for long, I take it?"
"I arrived last week. But I believed that the liberties of the people--"
He put his hands up to his ears. "I did not hear that. Take care. You will be accused of sedition. Of blasphemy. How much do you think that fine body of yours is worth?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"According to government, it is worth nothing. It can be removed with no apology and no explanation. We have repealed habeas corpus, you see." I was quite at a loss to understand him, but then immediately he changed the subject of conversation. "Have you read The Buried Monk by Canaris? Now there is a tale of diablerie!" I had read the book a month previously and, to my astonishment, Bysshe began to quote extempore the entire first paragraph beginning, "There was never a peaceful hour in the monastery that, to the simple inhabitants of the region, was known as the place of echoes." He would have continued but his companion at dinner, whom I afterwards ascertained to be Thomas Hogg, begged him to stop.
"Why do you call it government?" Hogg asked him.
"Why ever not?"
"Should it not be 'the government'?"
"No. Government is more powerful and more insidious. Government is some abstract and overwhelming force. Government is absolute. Do you not agree, minister from Geneva?"
Bysshe looked at me, keenly and curiously, and I replied as best I could. "If I were a minister, I would tell you that God differs from the god."
He laughed out loud. "Bravo! We will be friends. Permit me to introduce you to Shelley." He placed his hands upon his chest, and bowed. "And Hogg."
"My name is Victor Frankenstein."
"A fine name. Victor is Roman, is it not? Victor ludorum and such like."
"It is an old name in my family."
"Frankenstein is more perplexing. You are not an Israelite, since you attend chapel." I had not expected him to notice me there. "A stein is a jar for holding beer, I believe. Perhaps your ancestors were connected with the Frankish court in the honourable occupation of potters. You come from a family of makers, my dear Frankenstein. Your name is worthy of acclaim." By this time we had got up from the long table, and were walking back through the quad. "I have wine," Bysshe said. "Come and join us."
As soon as I entered his rooms, I knew that I was in the abode of an ardent spirit: on the floor, on the carpet, on the desk, on every available surface, lay a scattered profusion of objects of every description. There were papers, books, prints, and boxes innumerable with stockings, boots, shirts and other linen crammed among them. I observed that the carpet had already been stained and scorched in several places, which instinctively I ascribed to scientific experiment. He noticed my glance, and laughed. He had an immoderate laugh. "Sal ammoniac," he said. "Come and see my laboratory."
I followed him into the next room, where a narrow bed was lodged in a corner. He had set up a bench, upon which he had placed an electrical machine that I took to be a voltaic battery. Beside it was a solar microscope as well as several large glass jars and phials. "You are an experimenter," I said.
"Of course. And so should be every inquirer after knowledge. We do not need to read Aristotle. We need to look into the world."
Excerpted from The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd Copyright © 2009 by Peter Ackroyd. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.