(49) Chapter 8.

In Frankenstein country.

Glacier des Bois; Swiss, 1826; British Museum

In the Alpine valley of Chamonix, among the glaciers, The Last Man walks in the footsteps of its author and her earlier, more famous novel. Because of Frankenstein and its Creature’s universal appeal, there’s a wealth of material online about the setting Mary Shelley recycled into use for the effective end of the human race—here, for instance, at an intriguing university class site on the book’s geography.

And here is Johnny Lee Miller giving a performance for the ages as The Creature in a National Theatre production of Frankenstein, shown online in 2020 during the pandemic:

Elsewhere, a very fine Blogspot site about mountains and much more includes this image of the ice cave, from a collection at Chamonix, along with an account by a French visitor who was there some fifty years before the Shelleys:

A French glacier-focused website picks up the story. Scrolling down reveals that the setting in question was already much altered by the mid-1800s when the first photographers got there and found the Glacier des Bois in full retreat. It’s been gone for many years now, gone down to bare rock. The Last Man, unlike Frankenstein, takes place in the last years of the 21st century; its glacial ice might be its wildest anachronism.

The same modern editor who found a replacement for Mary Shelley’s Tuilleries Palace is left with a dilemma. Though we can hope that enlightened humanity, over the next seventy years or so, will find a way to halt and even reverse many global warming trends, the glaciers won’t be coming back within any timeframe of ours. Lionel and Adrian ought to be standing by a dried-up moraine, hearing rockslides rumble down the high gray slopes that held the glaciers in—hundreds of feet below where the man and his famous monster wind up arguing.

On the other hand, Mary Shelley’s world in The Last Man is not our world. Populations aren’t as vast. Development has proceeded differently, in North America very little. And what we’ve done with our extraction industries and fossil fuel power is not in play at all. Could this combination of factors have preserved the circa-1816 landscape below Mont Blanc into our own time or even beyond? Maybe not. Probably not. Global heat waves happen; one happens in The Last Man, in fact, and I’ve introduced some fragility into the ice as written. I have also kept the glaciers. It wouldn’t be a novel by Mary Shelley without them.

Please add your thoughts: