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Literature / The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

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"I sought to puncture Heaven and instead discovered Hell."

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is a young adult novel written by Kiersten White. It is a retelling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, told in the point of view of Elizabeth Lavenza, who is much more manipulative and calculating than she was in the original novel.

Elizabeth Lavenza was a mistreated orphan, until one day she is brought to the Frankenstein family, where she meets Victor, a solitary, strange young boy who has no friends. Using her charms, they quickly become inseparable, especially as she is the only one to be able to handle his moods and temper. But once they get older, Victor leaves for school and seemingly vanishes.

With her place in the home at risk, Elizabeth takes her friend Justine and begins to search for him. But during her search she begins to uncover secrets, and once she finds him, the darkness of her life only increases. Not only does she find out about his experiments, but murders begin to happen with alarming speed because of them. She also discovers how far Victor is willing to go for them...and that obsession and insanity may very well consume them both.

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein contains:

  • Adaptation Expansion: This shows Elizabeth’s backstory, including parts of her life before she met the Frankensteins, how she met Justine, and scenes of her childhood with Victor, Henry, and Justine.
  • Adaptational Heroism: The Monster, or Adam.
  • Adaptational Intelligence: In the original Frankenstein, Elizabeth is portrayed as a sweet, kind woman who is devoted to Victor. Here, she’s a calculating woman who knows how to play people very well, and who has made her personality and appearance tailor made for Victor to ensure her safety and comfort.
  • Adaptational Jerkass:
    • Elizabeth is a far cry from the sweet, gentle woman in the original book. She’s hardened by her unhappy early years and is very aware of her place, and using Victor and the Frankensteins to survive.
    • Judge Alphonse Frankenstein is turned from the loving father in the original to a cold and borderline abusive Jerkass to Elizabeth, to the point where he only sees her as a drain on the family’s estate.
  • Adapted Out: Robert Walton doesn’t appear here.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Victor is revealed to be a sociopathic murderer obsessed with keeping Elizabeth as his own.
  • Artificial Human: The Monster, Adam, naturally.
  • Arranged Marriage:
    • Elizabeth was betrothed to Victor from a young age in addition to being raised with him. She plans to go through with it for security and comfort. This changes both when the truth about Victor is revealed and she learns of her family fortune.
    • Elizabeth plans to someday have her friends Justine and Henry marry. Justine doesn’t agree, wanting to stay single and be governess to Elizabeth’s children. It doesn’t work out both due to their deaths and Henry being in love with Elizabeth.
  • Asshole Victim: Judge Frankenstein is a borderline abusive jerk who only adopted Elizabeth and encouraged the marriage to get her family fortune, but he doesn’t deserve to be murdered by Victor.
  • Bedlam House: Elizabeth wakes up to find herself incarcerated in an asylum because of Victor's machinations. Luckily, she breaks out with the help of Mary.
  • Betty and Veronica: Victor and Henry, for Elizabeth. Both are her Childhood Friends, but that's where the similarities end. Victor is the aloof genius whose high-ranking family housed Elizabeth and to whom she has devoted her entire life, while Henry is the kind son of a merchant who is more interested in poetry and whose affections Elizabeth was initially unaware. Early on, it becomes clear that Elizabeth has chosen Victor, mainly because she's really more interested in looking out for herself and has already modeled herself after being "his" Elizabeth, and has no patience to "start all over again" with Henry. She regrets her choice after learning of Victor's true nature, especially after she learns about what really happened to Henry.
  • Big Bad: Initially, the Monster. Except, it turns out he's Good All Along. The true villain is Victor, who has become a Serial Killer in his pursuit to conquer death and make Elizabeth immortal.
  • Big Fancy House:
    • Frankenstein Manor is a gorgeous estate with a forest on the grounds, fine furniture and beautiful things. However, there’s almost no staff save for Justine, a cook, the housekeeper and a couple of maids and the furniture and beautiful things are getting worn out, foreshadowing that the Frankensteins aren’t as wealthy as they seem. Elizabeth, Mary and Adam later burn it down after Victor kills Alphonse.
    • The Lake Como house that Elizabeth meets Victor at as children and is later their newlywed home is a stunning estate with beautiful gardens.
  • Body Horror: How everyone describes The Monster looking like.
  • Bookworm: Elizabeth mentions her love of books every now and then.
  • Brain Fever: Victor is in the middle of one when Elizabeth finds him.
  • Broken Bird: Justine after having survived seventeen years of her mother's abuse. She's broken even more when she is accused of William's murder.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: A dark deconstruction. Elizabeth perfects herself to become Victor's ideal person, and Victor’s love for her is more akin to obsession. It's also what Henry hoped for with Elizabeth, but he didn't succeed.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Hoo boy, Victor. As a child he didn’t want to be separated from Elizabeth even for school, and he didn’t react well to Henry kissing her. As an adult, he’s much worse, orchestrating Justine’s death not only for his experiments, but because he was jealous of Elizabeth's love for her.
  • Creepy Child: Victor was a strange child, obsessed with death and bodies and prone to fits of rage. he also killed his little brother Robert and the previous governess by the time he left for university.
  • "Dear John" Letter: After attempting to talk to Victor about pursuing Elizabeth, Henry sends her a letter saying that she’s better off with Victor and that he’s traveling England for a long period of time. It’s actually a forged letter by Victor written after killing Henry.
  • Death of a Child: Like in the original book, William, a little boy going missing and found not only dead, but murdered.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: It goes with the time period. Elizabeth actually takes advantage of everyone's low expectations of her more than once. There's also her upbringing, plus her marrying a boy she’s basically been raised with. Not to mention that women of any social class are denied formal education, women can be put away in a Bedlam House on the say so of their husbands, child abuse isn’t punished and Elizabeth’s family fortune is given to Victor upon marriage. It's portrayed as a bad time for women, which it was.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Elizabeth nearly crosses it when Justine dies.
  • Destructive Romance: Although Elizabeth's feelings are fairly ambiguous (although it is implied that she at least harbors some degree of genuine affection towards him) this is her and Victor's relationship. You can't get anything healthy from one person who is using the other in order to survive, and the other who has become utterly dependent and obsessed with the other person. That's not even getting in Victor's jealousy and all the murder...and his experiments that result from his feelings for her.
  • Deus ex Machina: Mary comes to rescue Elizabeth from the asylum just when the latter has given up hope of leaving.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation:
    • In the original novel, Victor dies from illness and despair after exposure in the Arctic Circle. Here, he is drowned by Elizabeth.
    • In the original novel, Alphonse Frankenstein dies offscreen from the shock of the events. Here, Victor killed him.
  • Dr. Frankenstein: Victor Frankenstein is husband to Elizabeth Lavenza. He is also depicted here as far more evil than the original book being a psycho Serial Killer and Yandere to Elizabeth. Adam Frankenstein's crimes from the original novel are Victor's in this version.
  • Entitled to Have You: Victor has this mindset with Elizabeth, constantly telling her that she's his.
  • Frankenstein's Monster: It is a retelling of the original tale after all.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Anyone who’s read the original knows that William and Justine die. However, it's subverted with Elizabeth's fate.
  • Good All Along: The Monster, aka Adam. It turns out he's been trying to protect Elizabeth all along from Victor, thanks to his lingering memories as Henry.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Subverted with Elizabeth. She's blonde, and plays a sweet nature to win people's good graces.
  • Her Code Name Was "Mary Sue": After Mary rescues Elizabeth from the asylum, they find a journal Victor wrote that uses a version of the original novel that paints him as a hero and Elizabeth as his devoted true love who is killed by Adam, resulting in a mental breakdown. Elizabeth and Mary are not amused.
  • Human Resources: How Victor views the people around him.
  • Illegal Guardian: Elizabeth’s first caretaker after her father was taken away. She physically and verbally abused little Elizabeth and is the reason behind Elizabeth’s mentality. While she’s not named, her comments imply that she used to work for Elizabeth’s biological parents and resents them.
  • Impoverished Patrician: On Elizabeth and Victor’s wedding day, it’s revealed that the Frankenstein family isn’t as rich as they used to be, to the point where Alphonse nearly rented out the manor and they have almost no staff. While Alphonse blames the costs of Elizabeth’s care, it’s mentioned that his father before him sold much of their land, implying that it’s been going on for some time.
  • Insane Equals Violent:
    • Victor.
    • Justine’s mother is mentally ill and loses it after the deaths of her other children, resulting in her attacking Justine.
  • It's All My Fault:
    • Elizabeth blames herself for William's death, since she assumes he was killed by a thief for the golden locket she gave him. The guilt only doubles when Justine is framed for the crime and executed. Later on, after learning the truth, she once again blames herself because she did nothing to stop Victor's descent into madness and instead enabled him by constantly covering up his misdeeds.
    • When Justine learns that her younger sisters have gotten sick and died, she immediately blames herself for not being there.
  • Kill the Cutie: Poor, poor William and Justine.
  • Lonely Funeral: Elizabeth gives Justine a (somewhat) decent burial with flowers marking her grave, not wanting her friend's body to be used by Victor.
  • Love Makes You Crazy/Love Makes You Evil: Victor again. He began his experiments in triumphing over death after almost losing Elizabeth to illness. Plus, he frames Justine for William's murder because of her friendship with Elizabeth, and mutilated Henry and left him to die after finding out he had feelings for her as well.
  • Missing Mom: Madame Frankenstein is this to her children after she dies of a fever.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Basically what Victor did by framing Justine for William's murder, simply by being so close to Elizabeth. He also mutilates Henry and leaves him to die after he confessed to having feelings for Elizabeth.
  • Mysterious Protector: It turns out that The Monster was trying to protect Elizabeth from Victor, partly because of pieces of Henry's memory of her.
  • Mythology Gag: Elizabeth is publicly declared as Victor’s cousin, a nod to the 1818 version of Frankenstein portraying them as Kissing Cousins.
    • After escaping the asylum, Elizabeth and Mary find a story that Victor wrote that mirrors the original story.
  • Nice Mean And In Between: Henry (nice), Victor (mean) and Elizabeth (in between) were this as children.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Elizabeth and Victor were raised together, but were always planned to be married eventually. Publicly, they’re declared to be cousins.
  • Nouveau Riche: Henry’s father is a successful merchant who rose up to a station high enough for Alphonse to approve of their sons playing together.
  • Oh, Crap!: On her wedding night, Elizabeth realizes with all of her planning to confront the Creature, she never thought about what else goes on that night…especially since they’re away from danger.
  • Papa Wolf: Henry’s father is furious when his son goes missing in London, blaming the Frankensteins.
  • Parental Abandonment: Elizabeth’s biological mother died in childbirth and her father was later imprisoned, leaving her in the care of an abusive guardian before she met the Frankensteins. Her fear of returning to that situation drives Elizabeth’s actions and relationship with Victor.
  • Patricide: Victor murdered his own father.
  • Pet the Dog: When Alphonse tells Elizabeth that she can use her inheritance for payment for her care, Victor protests and says that Elizabeth has a right to choose how the money is used.
  • Put on a Bus: Ernest, Victor's middle brother, is sent to school in Paris after Justine's execution and is barely mentioned in the story afterward. He ends up being the sole survivor of the Frankenstein family after Elizabeth drowns Victor in the final chapter.
  • Reincarnation: That's the best way to describe what the Monster is. He has lingering memories from all the people whose parts were used to make him, including Henry Clerval and Mary's uncle Carlos Delgado, but is wholly his own person. Hence, rather than take on one of those names, he takes a new one of his own: Adam.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Ever since William and Justine's deaths, Elizabeth believes she is in grave danger because of a murderer or monster. However, it isn't until her wedding night that she comes to discover Victor is the real threat.
  • Sibling Murder: Victor killed his own younger brother, William, as part of his plan to get rid of Justine. He also killed Robert as a child, but he claims it was an accident.
  • Sinister Suffocation: The method Victor used to strangle William, and later on strangle his own father.
  • Shout-Out: Mary Delgado is clearly named after Mary Shelley.
  • Spotting the Thread: On her wedding night with Victor, Elizabeth realizes that the Monster couldn't have murdered William or framed Justine, as the handprints on William's neck are far too slender to be his. Elizabeth quickly realizes the real murderer was Victor, who framed Justine in order to claim her body for his experiments.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Justine.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Averted with both Elizabeth and Victor. Elizabeth has always been calculating and deceptive even when she was five, even comparing herself to a sour strawberry. Victor was always a bit strange and had a strong temper, and it's later revealed that he killed his brothers' governess after Elizabeth saved Justine by offering her a job as a governess, forgetting there already was one. He also killed his brother Robert, supposedly by accident.
  • Yandere: If you haven't guessed already, Victor has a deep obsession with Elizabeth and is willing to do anything to keep her as his, even frame and indirectly kill her closest friend by murdering his youngest brother. This line basically says it all:
    Victor: "You are mine. I will never stop. I will follow you to the ends of the earth. And then you will know my power, and you will worship me as your creator, and we will be happy together."