The Mad Scientist's Daughter
By Theodora Goss
25 January 2010
Part 2 of 2
VI. The Reports of our Deaths
The reports of our deaths have been greatly exaggerated.
Justine: believed dismembered, her body parts thrown into the sea.
Beatrice: believed poisoned by a toxic antidote.
Helen: believed strangled by a hangman's rope.
Catherine: believed killed by Moreau's hand.
And yet, as you see, we survive.
VII. The Stories We Tell
Mary: "People often don't know that my father had a wife. She was left out of the case history that was written shortly after his death, I suppose to protect her privacy. Poor Mother! She was only eighteen when she married, and he was in medical school. She was so proud to have married a doctor. My grandfather was a country vicar, and she had been educated at home by my grandmother, taught to sew and sing hymns and keep hens. She didn't understand when my father began refurbishing the laboratory, conducting experiments. When I was fifteen, shortly before she died, she told me, 'Your father was a good man. Never forget that, Mary. It was his science, his fatal science, that ruined him. If only it had been a woman! Read your Bible, Mary. In it you'll find everything you ever need to know. Never give in to the curiosity that killed your father.'"
Beatrice: "There's nothing wrong with science. In itself, it's neither good nor evil. It's simply a way of looking at the world."
Mrs. Poole: "Well, then why does it lead to all those nasty mad scientists, I want to know? No, Miss Beatrice, I think all that science and experimenting should be left alone, especially by young ladies like yourselves. Mrs. Jekyll was a good, upstanding woman, and she was right. Everything you need to know, you'll find in the Good Book."
Beatrice: "Science saved me, Mrs. Poole. When I recovered from Professor Baglioni's antidote, it was late afternoon. Where could I go? I loved my father, but I didn't want to return to his garden, which had been my prison for so many years, or to the lover who had so cruelly rejected me. Instead, I wandered around Padua, trying to find the university. When I finally found the front gate, I asked to see Professor Baglioni.
"He was startled to see me. I think that he had, in an indirect way, tried to kill me, absolving himself of blame because he had not been sure of the result. I told him, 'If you don't help me, I'll go to the authorities and accuse you of attempted murder. I may be a monster, but I'm also the daughter of the famous Dr. Rappaccini, who has cured many of the townspeople, including the mayor's wife. Do you think they'll ignore me?' I don't know, really, if the authorities would have listened to me, but he was already frightened and uncertain of his position, so he did what I asked.
"He took me to his villa and brought me all of his books on natural philosophy, particularly botany. When those weren't enough, he brought me books from the university library. I spent months studying them, trying to understand my own physiology. I wanted to remove the poison from my system. I think part of me still hoped I could return to my Giovanni and say, 'Look, I'm a normal woman now.' I still wanted him to love me. But I could find no way to alter my condition.
"One day, he told me of my father's death. My father had continued his studies, but without me to tend the garden for him, he had slowly been poisoned by its fumes. How I cried! All the anger I had felt toward him melted away, and I felt only an emptiness. I was now alone in the world. I left the seclusion of the villa and offered myself to the learned men of the university for study. When they could give me no answer, I went to another university, and then another. I traveled from city to city, from Padua to Milan, Geneva, Paris, and finally London, always hoping that someone would find a cure. Without that hope, sometimes I think I would have lain down on the earth and simply died. Finally, I decided that I would become a scientist myself. If I could not find an answer in books or from learned men, I would have to experiment. So I followed in my father's footsteps. I wonder if he would have been proud of me?"
Mary: "I'm certain he would have. You're doing wonderful work."
Diana: "How do you do it, Mary? You always agree with everyone. You never say anything mean or lose your temper. Honestly, I think it's creepy. Sometimes I think you're a doll that a magician brought to life and taught to behave from a good conduct book. I have no problem with Bea making potions, but we shouldn't pretend that any of us will ever be normal. Sometimes when I'm with the Viscount, all I want to do is bite him until he bleeds and lap up the blood. Cat knows what I'm talking about."
Catherine: "I often want to bite someone. The butcher looks so delicious, carrying those glorious hunks of meat!"
Diana: "Exactly. Well, you girls know my history. My mother was a whore, who didn't know she was with child until after my father died. She figured out what was what quickly enough, and Mrs. Jekyll paid though the nose—until my mother died of syphilis at twenty-one. I was sent to an orphanage run by nuns. How sick I became of their pieties! At night, when they thought all the girls were sleeping, I cut their habits to shreds and pissed in the communion cup. I rang the bells at the wrong hours. Finally, they decided the orphanage was haunted and brought in a bishop for an exorcism. But it was all me, of course. When I was old enough, I left to follow my mother's trade. Don't tell me that any science is going to make me normal."
VIII. The Stories We Tell, Continued
Catherine: "I killed my father. I bit him and bashed his head in. And when a ship finally came close enough to the island, I pretended to be in distress so the captain would take me aboard. He believed I was an English lady whose ship had been captured by pirates, and who had finally been left to starve on a deserted shore. That was the only way he could explain my scars, and of course I told him that I could not remember anything before my time on the island. He brought me to England, and his wife cared for me. She taught me how to dress, how to eat with a knife and fork, all the things my father had not taught me. She wanted to adopt me as her daughter—they were childless—but one day when I was sitting in the parlor, darning a sock, her little dog came by, a yapping little dog that had never liked me, and bit me on the ankle. So I bit it back. When she came in, its corpse was dangling from my jaws. She started screaming . . . I left with only the clothes on my back. I begged in the streets for months before Lorenzo asked me to join his circus."
Justine: "Those were good days with the circus, weren't they?"
Beatrice: "How did you join the circus, Justine?"
Justine: "Do we have to talk about it?"
Beatrice: "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to distress you. I was just curious."
Justine: "All right. But it's hard for me to talk about—I'd rather forget. The creature my father had made wanted a wife, so my father made me. But after he had completed me, he realized that he could not give me to the creature. So, he made the creature believe he was destroying me by rowing out and throwing a sack full of stones into the sea. Then, he took me to a cottage on the coast of Scotland, even more remote than our previous location had been. 'I won't give you to that monster,' he told me. 'You have the ability to reason and to appreciate the beautiful. You are not like him, and you will not belong to him.' The creature, supposing I had been destroyed, did not follow us. And so for a few years, a few happy years, we were left in peace.
But one day, the creature found our cottage. He was determined once more to have my father make another like himself. And there, on the shore by that northern sea, he saw my father playing with me, the bride who had been meant for him. We were throwing a ball back and forth, one of my favorite games at that time—remember that although I was full-grown, I was only three years old. He was in such a rage that he ran toward my father and strangled him with his bare hands. And then he attacked me. . .
"He forced me to live with him in that cottage, to read him the books my father and I had read together, to sit by the fire with him as though we were man and wife. But one night, as he lay asleep after drinking the last of the whiskey in the house, I stuck a kitchen knife into his heart. And then I ran, sobbing, because I had killed the man who had been both brother and husband to me, the only one, as far as I knew, of my kind. I lived on berries, the bark from trees, and what I could steal from farmyards—the slop left for the pigs, the grain scattered for the hens. Once, a man tried to shoot me with a gun. Another time, boys threw stones at me. Finally I came to a town, and there was a circus. It was, of course, Lorenzo's Traveling Circus of Marvels and Delights. The tent was so bright, so cheerful, scarlet and yellow in the middle of a field. And I heard music . . . Although I was sick and starving, I walked closer to see where the music was coming from. But there, just by the tent, I fainted. When I came to again, I was in Lola's caravan, and Lorenzo was looking at me, smoothing his mustache. Cat, you remember what a black mustache he had. We were convinced he dyed it. 'Young lady,' he said, 'I have a proposition for you.' I was terrified! I had never seen a human being before, except my father. But I accepted his offer to join the sideshow. What choice did I have? I had no way to earn my living in the world. I had only the knowledge my father had given me, and the fact that I was, you know, different."
Beatrice: "Why do we always die in the stories?"
Catherine: "Because we're not the ones who write them."
IX. The Secrets We Tell Each Other
Justine: "Once, I killed a man. I put my hands around his neck and strangled him. I didn't mean to—he threatened to shoot me with a gun."
Mary: "Once, a man tried to kiss me. He was a clerk at the attorney's office, when I went to hear the provisions of my mother's will. That was when I learned about Diana—it was my mother who had placed her in that orphanage. The front hall was narrow, and as he was handing me my coat, he suddenly leaned down . . . But then, at the last moment, he drew back. There was a look on his face, as though he had smelled something repugnant. I don't know what it is—I don't think I'm unattractive. But no man has tried to kiss me since."
Helen: "I don't know how many men I've slept with—I never kept track. They were all respectable men, the kind you meet in drawing rooms or at balls during the season. You have no idea what strange tastes some of them had . . ."
Beatrice: "Well, please don't tell us. I don't think I have any secrets. Does that make me boring?"
Diana: "I've had an abortion. And I would do it again, if I had to."
Catherine: "Some days, when I look in the mirror, I just wish I looked normal."
X. Our Plans for the Future
Helen is the only one of us who has ever been married. Arthur Meyrinck is her second husband. Her first husband committed suicide. Men have a way of doing that around Helen. But Arthur is an artist. Nothing she does can shock him. If he comes down in the morning to find that the parlor has turned into Arcadia, with naked woman dancing to the sound of Pan pipes, he eats his breakfast in the kitchen.
Most men are not so tolerant. Most men do not want a wife who is stronger than they are, like Justine, or who can bite through their necks, as I can, or who, like Beatrice, can kill them with a breath.
That, I suppose, is why we rather spoil Leda, sewing her dresses, letting her borrow whatever books she likes. Mrs. Poole makes her cakes and biscuits and tarts.
Justine has said, "Why don't we make a child of our own? We would make her out of corpses, or a large dog. Or," looking at Beatrice, "some sort of shrub? Maybe a rhododendron?"
I say, "Do you really think it would be a good idea to create another one of us? Aren't there enough of us in the world already?"
I know that Justine disagrees, that she thinks there's nothing much wrong with us, that the problem is with the world, which has no place for us in it. Except here, in this house. She has the confidence that comes from having once been loved.
Helen says, "Why just one? Why not start with three—plant, animal, corpse, and see which one works best? Then go on from there. We could make any number of daughters, if we wanted. What none of you, except Diana, realizes is that we're powerful. Not just because we're strong or deadly or have sharp teeth, but because of everything we've endured. We're our father's daughters in more ways than one. We could control this society we live in, rather than hiding from it."
Ever since we joined the club, Helen has tried to convince us to take over the world.
Helen: "Plan A. Beatrice creates a poison that we can introduce into the water supply. We make all of London sick. We offer to release the antidote, but only if the government pays us a certain sum of money. That's if we need money."
Mary: "We always need money."
Catherine: "Bea, could you actually do that?"
Beatrice: "It wouldn't be particularly difficult, scientifically. But I wouldn't want to harm anyone."
Helen: "That's why we'd have an antidote. Plan B. We kidnap Queen Victoria. She shouldn't be too difficult to extract from Balmoral. Justine snaps her neck and then reanimates her in a remote location, perhaps the cottage her father used to own on the coast of Scotland. The reanimation erases her memories, creating a blank slate for us to write on. Over the course of a month, we teach her to trust us, do what we tell her to. We return her to a grateful nation, saying that we found her wandering, suffering from amnesia. And then through her, we control the government."
Justine: "How do you expect me to reanimate her? And you know how well that worked for my father—the creature he created was uncontrollable, destructive."
Beatrice: "But wasn't he made from the corpse of a criminal? I've met the Queen—she's a kind and gracious woman. I'm sure her corpse would be much more amenable to suggestion."
Mary: "For goodness's sake, don't let Mrs. Poole hear you. She has a picture of the Queen hanging over her bed. Where do you think we could get another housekeeper?"
Diana: "We know you still have your father's notebooks. They're in the bottom drawer of your dresser, under your chemises."
Justine: "I can't believe you would go through my personal things!"
Catherine: "You are talking about Diana here. I'm sure she's gone through all of our drawers. She doesn't take your clothes because they're too big for her, but I'm constantly missing stockings . . ."
Helen: "Plan C. Catherine creates an army of beast people. We use them to terrorize London."
Mary: "How would that lead to world domination?"
Helen: "Honestly, I haven't thought that far ahead. I just think it would be fun. Imagine, we could make horse people and dog people and rat people . . ."
Diana: "Well, what does Cat think?"
Catherine: "I don't know. On one hand, it would be nice to have more of us. On the other, I don't think any of you understand my and Bea's and Justine's position. At least you were born rather than made. Do we really want to—manufacture beings like ourselves? To create monsters, as our fathers did? Although making beast people does sound easier, scientifically, than concocting a poison and its antidote, or animating corpses. I mean, it's just sewing the parts together. Any of us could do it."
Justine: "But why? Would we make society any better?"
Helen: "We could, if we wanted to. We could put Mary in power. She's so orderly and logical. Imagine what sensible rules she would make. At least the trains would run on time."
Justine: "I suppose we could do it for the greater good. We could clean up the East End, especially those dreadful areas around Whitechapel. We could find homes for the children in orphanages, and employment for the women who flaunt their wares on the streets . . ."
Helen: "There, you see? I'm not saying we should spend all of our time planning to take over the world. I have other commitments myself. But I do think we should start giving it some serious consideration."
Diana: "Helen's only being practical. You know they're going to come after us eventually. They always do—scientists, other monsters, the police. So why not take control first?"
Helen: "Whether or not you agree with me now, there's going to come a day when all of you, except perhaps Mary, will want children. You'll want them to live safely in this world, and then you'll realize that it's time for us to seize power. You'll see."
Maybe she's right. I do sometimes think about how nice it would be to have a daughter of my own, not just cats.
XI. Why I Wrote This Sketch
Someday, I would like to write a book that isn't about Rick Chambers or Astarte. It would be the sort of book that George Eliot could have written, about life in a country town and the people who live there, their jealousies, their ambitions, the minutiae of their lives. How they fall in love with the wrong people, or the right people at the wrong time, or lose the mercantile business on which their fortune is built. Or misplace wills. You know, literature.
But I've never experienced any of those things myself. All I know is monsters.
So I decided to write about us. Just a sketch, no heroic Englishman journeying into the heart of a dark continent, no idol with rubies for eyes. No Caverns of Doom. Just us, sitting and talking. A story that George Eliot could have written.
We are as ordinary, in our own way, as the inhabitants of a country town. In the morning we rise and make our beds, except Diana. We eat breakfast (toast and eggs for Mary, steamed turnips for Justine, raw chicken for me, and for Beatrice a cup of mossy water). Then Justine and Mary take up their work, while Beatrice helps Mrs. Poole, who has found mice in the pantry. (Poor Beatrice. How she hates exterminator duty. But it's an easier death for the mice than Alpha's claws.) I curl up in the rose chintz armchair and start my chapter. In the afternoon, Mary will go around to pay the bills, Diana will rise and go to the theater, Beatrice and Justine will play a game of chess, and I will help Mrs. Poole polish the silver.
We will worry about where the money's going to come from for a summer dress, how to make a cake with only one egg in it, who left the back door open, the plumbing, whether the cherries on the tree in the back garden will ripen this year, and growing old. I think George Eliot could have made something of us, don't you?
XII. An Application for Membership
Yesterday, I received a letter. "Dear Miss Moreau," it began.
"My friend Mrs. Jonathan Harker (née Mina Murray) suggested that I write to you. Until a month ago, I lived in an asylum in Wittenberg, caring for my mother, whose health and sanity had been destroyed by certain experiments in blood transfusion performed by my father, Professor Abraham Van Helsing, whose work may be familiar to you from a variety of scientific journals. My own health was affected while I was yet in the womb, for her pregnancy did not alter his research.
I suffer from an acuteness of hearing, an antipathy to light and to strong scents, and persistent anemia, as well as other medical symptoms that I can describe to you in more detail if required. After my mother's death, I could not bring myself to live with my father, so I have been staying with friends or in boarding houses for the past month. I have no independent income, but I make a little money by giving singing and piano lessons. Mrs. Harker has described for me the club you have formed in London for the daughters of mad scientists, and I wonder if my parentage and experiences might qualify me to join you? I would certainly be grateful to have a good home and to find companionship with others in my circumstance.
Lucinda Van Helsing
Justine: "Yes, of course. Write to her immediately and tell her that she can come, poor dear."
Mary: "We can turn the library into her bedroom, and put the books in the clubroom. We may also have some room for shelves in the front hall. I'll start sewing her curtains to block out the light."
Diana: "It will be nice to have some music around here. It's so deadly quiet sometimes. I wonder if the piano is still in tune?"
Mrs. Poole: "I've heard terrible things about this Professor Van Helsing. He killed a girl by driving a stake through her heart!"
Beatrice: "But that's terrible! How can society allow such things?"
Helen: "You know what I think—the more of us the better. All right, any objections? We have to be unanimous, you know." We all shake our heads. "Well, write to her then. Leda and I have to go now. We have to prepare for a Walpurgisnacht party in the studio. Artists! You can't imagine the mess they make. A troop of satyrs is nothing to it. Mrs. Poole, have you seen our umbrellas? We're going by bus, and I think it's starting to rain."
I say, "I'll write to her tomorrow. It will be nice to have a new member of the club."
Then we sit by the fire, reading or sketching or embroidering, just us monsters.