We need to talk about Igor…

This article was written as part of The FrankenPod‘s exploration of the cultural legacy of the Frankenstein myth.

When I was little I thought Igor came from the story of Frankenstein.

When I was a teenager I thought they created Igor for the film.

Now that I’m an adult I have no goddamn idea. The “Igor” of the 1931 Frankenstein… was not called Igor, his name was Fritz. So where did this rambling, pivotal, yet utterly disposable character come from? Is he really a 20th century Universal Studios creation or is there something more to this embodiment of the strange, the gatekeeper to monstrosity and unnerving manservant that we call “Igor”.

 

Its an iconic image, the obsessed mad scientist connecting the wires to his creature and the machinery that presumably has something to do with the whole process. He might cackle, he might yell to the heavens, he might even wear steampunk goggles. But in this equation of the isolated man and his dangerous obsession, there is often a third party, someone to flick the switch. Enter Igor.

Or Ygor.

Or Fritz.

His character generally fills at least one of these three roles:

  1. The other that acts as a buffer between the doctor and his creation, such as in the 1931 brain mix up, we can blame almost anything on Fritz in his role as the assistant.
  2. The humanity to the Doctor’s crazed monstrous mania. He is in on the project, and tries to stop the Doctor or appeal to his better nature, in vain.
  3. A human exposition facilitator. In the novel of Frankenstein which features no assistant, the primary story telling of the creation process occurs over a large passage of time and through Victor’s narration. So without an overarching voice narration, an assistant can ask the questions that will allow the Doctor to fill the audience in on what is happening.

 

Presumption; Or the Fate of Frankenstein (1823)

Richard Brinsley Peake’s stage adaptation would set up some the more outlandish and comedic elements of the modern Frankenstein myth. In this play Victor’s friend Henry Clerval from the novel and the new character invented for the play, Fritz, assist him in his experiments. This allows for a broad distribution of blame for the subsequent events rather than all the responsibility lying at the feet of Doctor Frankenstein. Fritz also functions as an audience surrogate or even narrator in many parts.

 

Frankenstein (1931)

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Dwight Frye in A Strange Attraction 1932

Fritz (Dwight Frye) is definitely a scapegoat and entirely expendable. The criminal brain mix up is a game changer, it takes the blame away from Frankenstein, and places the emphasis on nature rather than nurture. He is a low stakes victim and by virtue of his cruelty towards the Creature and unfortunately due to his appearance. The ablist judgements at play in portrayal of Fritz and his successors give the audience an excuse to dislike the assistant right from the outset, which I think we can all agree is an issue and deeply problematic.

 

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We are introduced to Bela Lugosi’s Ygor. Ygor also has a physical impairment which was the result of an attempt to hang him for grave robbing. The former blacksmith can control the “Monster” making him a formidable opponent for Frankenstein’s son. The cultural othering of Ygor or the assistant as being a different nationality and therefore strange.

 

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Marty Feldman as Igor

Young Frankenstein (1974)

This time played by Marty Feldman, and named Igor, this comedy portrayal of the assistant would shape our understanding of the character forever. His exaggerated and unnerving appearance combined with Feldman’s incomparable and unsettling performance has buried the “Igor” deep into our collective cultural understanding of the Frankenstein myth.

 

We will be watching Victor Frankenstein soon. I’m excited to see how Daniel Radcliffe deals with the somewhat intangible legacy of Igor.

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Betjeman, Buchan, Wilde and The Yellow Book

This is an article released as part of The FrankenPod’s exploration of Oscar Wilde and his place in the gothic literary canon.

The poem “The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel” is a subtle yet insistent condemnation of the society that allowed for the prosecution of Wilde. In depicting the final moments before Wilde’s arrest Sir John Betjeman talks of The Yellow Book.

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Sir John Betjeman

“So you’ve brought me the latest Yellow Book:

And Buchan has got in it now:

Approval of what is approved of

Is as false as a well-kept vow.

-Sir John Betjeman

To unpack this passage we need to know a little about the aforementioned Yellow book. The Yellow Book was a yellow clothbound publication that featured salacious and subversive stories, many of them French. Many note that a yellow book, similar to the future periodical was given to Dorian Gray by Lord Henry in The Picture of Dorian Gray written by Oscar Wilde in 1891.

Is it possible this could be part of the inspiration for the name of the periodical?

Well kind of. The phenomenon of the illicit French narrative was very much alive during the time Oscar Wilde was writing The Picture of Dorian Gray. But the yellow bound book is not an invention of Wilde’s but rather a common mode of publication for these transgressive tales. It follows that if Lord Henry was to procure such a corrupting, violent and heavily sexualized book it would more than likely have been presented in this yellow bound format. The periodical The Yellow Book is named after this publication presentation phenomenon that preceded The Picture of Dorian Gray.

It was also known as “The Yellow Nineties” due to its decade of publication.

The quarterly publication is cited as running from 1894 to 1897 and came under heat when Oscar Wilde was seen to be carrying a similar book, leading to outraged crowds throwing stones at the office of the publication. That gives you a bit of a clue as to the kind of societal outrage Oscar Wilde was facing. In this time of crisis in Wilde’s life, his arrest for gross indecency, surely seeing the publication whose name could have been inspired by his prose, give way to a style of writing so distanced from his own aesthetic style would be another blow to the great author.

The implications that this has for the poem is that these tales that challenge social mores are being supplanted by John Buchan’s more tame prose.

I am not entirely sure what Wilde’s opinion of Buchan’s writing really was but Wilde, as written by Betjeman, positions himself and aestheticism as the unconventional to Buchan’s conventionally appealing writing. By the Yellow Book publishing the work of Buchan, Betjeman is implying that challenging works such as Wilde’s that have achieved hard-earned success have been pushed aside to make way for less groundbreaking potboilers. This is a gross simplification of the two author’s works but that is not a reflection on the beauty of the poem.

The poem is the essence of the societal rejection of Wilde, his fall from favour and the sense that the world of literature will continue on without him.

John Buchan and his brand of thriller are the future and Wilde’s aestheticism is the past. Literature may have suffered greatly from the loss of Wilde’s unwritten work, but what is done is done. And in 1937 when Betjeman is writing this poem the literary scene had undergone a massive transformation, he seems nostalgic but resigned to the change that sweeps through everything eventually.

LILLIE_LANGTRY_-_Cadogan_Hotel_21_Pont_Street_Chelsea_London_SW1X_9SG
Cadogan Hotel By Spudgun67 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
As the poem “The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel” is the creative property of Betjeman  I will not be reproducing it in full but I am providing a link to the poem in full from Poetry By Heart who has permission to reproduce the poem.

So with that, we say goodbye to Wilde for now. The world of mystery and espionage that Buchan’s work forms part of could be in our future.

The passage from The Picture of Dorian Gray which introduces the nature of the yellow book:

“His eye fell on the yellow book that Lord Henry had sent him. What was it, he wondered. He went towards the little, pearl-coloured octagonal stand that had always looked to him like the work of some strange Egyptian bees that wrought in silver, and taking up the volume, flung himself into an arm-chair and began to turn over the leaves. After a few minutes he became absorbed. It was the strangest book that he had ever read. It seemed to him that in exquisite raiment, and to the delicate sound of flutes, the sins of the world were passing in dumb show before him. Things that he had dimly dreamed of were suddenly made real to him. Things of which he had never dreamed were gradually revealed.

It was a novel without a plot and with only one character, being, indeed, simply a psychological study of a certain young Parisian who spent his life trying to realize in the nineteenth century all the passions and modes of thought that belonged to every century except his own, and to sum up, as it were, in himself the various moods through which the world-spirit had ever passed, loving for their mere artificiality those renunciations that men have unwisely called virtue, as much as those natural rebellions that wise men still call sin. The style in which it was written was that curious jewelled style, vivid and obscure at once, full of argot and of archaisms, of technical expressions and of elaborate paraphrases, that characterizes the work of some of the finest artists of the French school of Symbolistes. There were in it metaphors as monstrous as orchids and as subtle in colour. The life of the senses was described in the terms of mystical philosophy. One hardly knew at times whether one was reading the spiritual ecstasies of some mediaeval saint or the morbid confessions of a modern sinner. It was a poisonous book. The heavy odour of incense seemed to cling about its pages and to trouble the brain. The mere cadence of the sentences, the subtle monotony of their music, so full as it was of complex refrains and movements elaborately repeated, produced in the mind of the lad, as he passed from chapter to chapter, a form of reverie, a malady of dreaming, that made him unconscious of the falling day and creeping shadows.”

Thanks for reading

Morgan

My Hero – Mary Wollstonecraft (no but seriously you guys she’s amazing)

800px-Mary_Wollstonecraft_by_John_Opie_(c._1797).jpgThis article was written as part of The FrankenPod’s exploration of Frankenstein or The Modern day Prometheus and it’s author Mary Shelley.

This is not going to be a bio of Mary Wollstonecraft or an impartial critique of her works and impact. No this is going to be a straight-up piece of hero worship. There aren’t many heroes in the text of Frankenstein or surrounding its author. But Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley’s mum who she never really met is a force to be reckoned with. Her legacy looms large in Shelley’s life, with the author often remarking on the expectations that she would do great things because of her lineage. Whilst William Godwin, Shelley’s father lived long enough to grow conservative and gradually let his radical views fall by the way-side, Mary Wollstonecraft did not have that chance, as she died, still a relatively young woman, from complications after giving birth to Mary Godwin (later Shelley).

Mary was not Wollstonecraft’s first daughter, she had a daughter named Fanny who she raised as a single mother at a time when that was just not the done thing. She felt no need to become attached legally to the fathers of her children but did marry Godwin prior to Mary Shelley’s birth. She believed strongly in female emancipation and the necessity of educating girls so that they were not dependent on husbands or other male family members. Her most notable work is probably “A Vindication of The Rights of Woman” which was a follow up to her original work “A Vindication of the Rights of Man”.  “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” laid out an amazing protofeminist agreement for, not only the reasons that women should be educated, but that girls had been socially conditioned into being demure, fragile “idiots”. It is a thrilling book to read when you put it into the context of its time. She was telling the reader, who at that stage was assumed to be a man due to the low levels of female literacy, that female education and empowerment was their problem too, and that they should be encouraging their sisters, wives and daughters to take an interest in things outside the domestic sphere.

She was in France during the French revolution, she had many affairs and she also had a friend named Fanny Blood (which is an AMAZING name might I add) in her youth and they had that type of intense friendship that can become completely co-dependent until Fanny died.

This is basically turning into a non-chronological list of why I love Mary Wollstonecraft. Her novel “Maria: Or the Wrongs of Woman” (1798) is a tragedy that also serves as a damning indictment of the power imbalances in marriage, with men being literally able to lock up their wives under the pretence of them being hysterical. She was also a prolific letter writer, whose letters were published in volumes that sold remarkably well.

I’m going to come back to Wollstonecraft again another day because she is just so important to not only the creation of Frankenstein, but crucial to early feminism.

We owe so much to her. Let’s try not to forget her.

 

4 History Podcasts I listen to as soon as they come out!

I listen to a LOT of podcasts. I started with Serial as I think a lot of people did and it was the gateway drug into a full blown podcast problem. Lately, since we released our own podcast really, I’ve been exposed to a world of indie podcasts that I just wouldn’t have heard about otherwise. It’s really easy to get caught in a bit of a feedback loop, and for these podcasts to only reach audiences that largely consist of other indie podcasts struggling to be noticed. Everyone in the community is very supportive but it can be hard to be heard. I’m going to try to write a post once a week to shine a light on some of these wonderful podcasts. This week HISTORY!

Here are some amazing podcasts you should definitely listen to and subscribe to that have a historical flavour:

Cult of Domesticity 

Courtney and Ashley talk about history, true crime and lately, air disasters. And you get a recipe! People don’t ALWAYS die, but they usually do.

Gallus Girls and Wayward Women

Donna and Tim explore the Herstory of the British Isles through tales of some truly badarse women such as Mary Queen of Scotts and Muriel Sparks.

Relic

Maxwell takes you on historical adventures tied to artifacts and lost treasures. It’s like a better informed Indiana Jones without pilfering the important artifacts of another culture… actually it’s not like Indiana Jones at all.

Ouija Broads

With an emphasis on the Spokane area Liz and Devon explore some of the truley bizaare cultural heritage of the Pacific Northwest. 

Never Drink the Bubbly Potion – The Mortal Immortal

This article was written to accompany The FrankenPod’s continuing exploration of Frankenstein or The Modern Day Prometheus and its author Mary Shelley.

If Frankenstein is the centre of this gothic spiderweb we are clumsily weaving with this podcast I would be remiss in not exploring Shelley’s other texts. Particularly one of her other explorations of mortality, the 1833 short story, The Mortal Immortal. This story sees a much more mature Shelley, plagued by death and loss. She had outlived her friend Byron, her husband Percy, her half-sister Fanny, her three children William, Clara and an unnamed girl, her brother William the younger and she still felt the loss of the mother she had never known. Since Percy’s death, she had not remarried despite a number of guys showing a distinct interest. Perhaps she related to the lonely immortal wanderer of this story.

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Henry Cornelius Agrippa

We are back with Agrippa again, actually literally with Agrippa. Through the eyes of Victor Frankenstein, we learn the profound effect that Agrippa’s quest for the elixir of life had on the young doctor a couple of hundred years later. In The Mortal Immortal, we find out what happens when we actually drink the elixir of life.

A young student of Agrippa who we only know as Winzy is our narrator. In the opening of this epistolary narrative Wizy records in his journal that it is July 16th 1833, so the year of publication. It is in the opening that Wizy also tells us that he is 323 years of age.

The story deals with the reality of what it would be like to not only rob another person of their immortality but to never grow old and to watch everyone you know actively age around you. I feel quite sorry for Winzy’s wife Bertha who is painted as shrewish as she gets older.

I kind of like to think of Mary Shelley’s texts existing in the same unique universe. If only the Mortal Immortal had crossed paths with Victor before he embarked on his horrific project, maybe he would have ceased his quest before he even started.

Who knows The Mortal Immortal could still be wandering the globe looking for perfect painless death…

Available for purchase at The Book Depository

The League of Incense – The Villa Diodati

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Lord Byron in Greek dress

This article was written to accompany The FrankenPod episode “The League of Incense – The Villa Diodati” and our continuing exploration of Frankenstein, Or the Modern Day Prometheus and it’s author Mary Shelley.

In 1816 the after-effects of a devastating eruption of Mount Tambora the year beforehand were seriously messing with weather patterns and consequently the harvest. Farmers across the globe were struggling to make ends meet and cost of food and produce skyrocketed. Byron was still travelling. He left England in disgrace and he would never go back until they transported his cold lifeless corpse back to England against his wishes. Mary, her husband Percy and her stepsister Claire were travelling too. Referred to as the Shelley Party, or Shelley and his two little wives. The two parties would cross paths between 10 June to 1 November 1816 at Lake Geneva that would be intensely documented and scrutinised.

 

Whilst Mary and her novel may be our primary point of interest, she is not the driving force behind the gathering of these remarkable people. No, it is her persistent and enamoured 18-year-old step sister, who had organised for the two parties to meet up using the kind of Machiavellian manipulation that only a strong-willed 18-year-old woman can orchestrate. Claire Clairmont had, through written correspondence, pursued Lord Byron and, he, exhausted from the constant scandal was absolutely willing to have an affair with a pretty, chaperone-less young lady who was the stepdaughter of one of the most esteemed thinkers of his age.

Their affair was short-lived and Byron unceremoniously ditched her. Claire, however, was not done with him and she began to utilize all the social capital she had at her disposal. If you haven’t caught on yet Byron is an arse. He was accused of all sorts of adulterous and licentious behaviour including a rumoured affair with his half-sister. He spent his time hopping from scandal to scandal, leaving a path of destruction in his wake. His behaviour was particularly devastating to the women he had affairs with as the scandal could ruin their lives. He was very assured of his own genius and place in the world and he thought nothing of dismissing the affections of this young woman until she introduced Percy and Mary into the mix.

Byron, like Percy and numerous other young writers of the time, was fascinated by Mary. This daughter of two literary greats must be special indeed. And Percy had previously sent Byron a copy of Queen Mab in which the older poet saw a budding poetic voice emerging. Plus Byron had dealt with his fair share of public scandal so he felt a certain affinity with the young unwed couple.

However, Byron was leaving for Geneva and Claire was not going to give up just yet. She asked for the address.

He said no.

She asked again but this time she offered to bring Mary and Percy along.

This idea appealed to Byron and an invitation was extended to the Shelley party who by this stage was essentially on the run from Percy’s creditors and the scandalous reputation they had acquired in England.

Byron was not travelling alone, his laudanum addiction provoked him to retain the services of a doctor to accompany him in his travels, one Doctor John Polidori. Literary lore and Polidori’s own account of his time with the genius poet depicts a Byron as a potential sociopath who would constantly berate and belittle his paid companion, whilst demonstrating an easy charm and playfulness with others. He enjoyed toying with the young doctor, delighting in his failures and missteps. But Polidori had a secret; he had been paid quite a large sum of money by publisher John Murray to document the trip for publication. Byron gossip was a high priced commodity, and though his motives were far from pure, it is Polidori’s notes to which we owe a large portion of what we know of the events that transpired at the on the holiday…

Listen to The FrankenPod League of Incense – The Villa Diodati now.

Or keep reading… Or both

Continue reading “The League of Incense – The Villa Diodati”

10 Romantic Gothic Stories You Should Read Before You Run Hysterically Into the Moors Never to be Seen (Alive) Again

As I was looking for resources through the hit and miss machine that is Google, I kept coming across goth dating sites… this is not relevant, I just thought you should know the level of people in pseudo-Victorian garb staring whimsically off into space that I had to endure to research this was relatively high compared with other topics I have written about.

Romanticism and the Gothic overlap so much that it is probably easier to define was isn’t Romantic Gothic and it might take less time. So rather than go over a definition of Gothic Romanticism that is so similar to the millions of others out there, not to mention our introductory episode, I thought I would give you a list of a few of my favourite stories that deal in Gothic Romanticism that we haven’t covered on The FrankenPod podcast:

 

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Byam Shaw‘s illustration for Poe‘s The Murders in the Rue Morgue in “Selected Tales of Mystery” (London : Sidgwick & Jackson, 1909) on the page to face p. 284 with caption “The sailor’s face flushed up; he started to his feet and grasped his cudgel”

The Murders in The Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe (1841)

Falling into the category of both the genius detective (pre-Holmes I might add) and urban gothic, and with at least one very clear example of gothic excess (that is the fate of the victims in the story and their killer). Dupain is a delight and in my opinion far more likeable and intriguing than his successor Holmes.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue is as much fun as you can possibly have with a corpse shoved up a chimney.

Available for free at Project Gutenberg as part of  The Works of Edgar Allan Poe Part 1

There is also an excellent dramatisation of Murders in the Rue Morgue that was released as part of The Rivals Audio drama on BBC Radio 4 with the eternally adorable James Fleet inserted into the narrative as Inspector Lestrade, who is an Arthur Conan Doyle creation. The thread of the series is that Lestrade, of Sherlock Holmes fame, is basically offering examples of detectives who are better than Holmes, and Dupain played by the incomparable Andrew Scott is his first example.

 

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

This was the first gothic novel I ever read and it has a very special place in my heart to rival Frankenstein. Pop culture has entirely ruined the ending for new readers unless they are 10 like I was. If you do let a 10-year-old read it, maybe go for a kid’s edition to minimise nightmares. Still worth a read despite the spoilers. Doubling you guys! More Doubling!

Available for free at Project Gutenberg 

 

Stoker_-_Dracula,_Sonzogno,_Milano,_1922.djvuDracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

I know that there are other vampire stories that pave the way to Dracula (some of which we will talk about on the podcast), but none of them quite achieve the drama and the sense of formidable invasion the way the Bram Stoker does. He has brought together a lot of ideas surrounding vampires and made them into an incredibly compelling novel that still holds up. It is also insanely problematic as most novels of its time are so easily outraged should tread carefully as with all these books really.

Available for free on Project Gutenberg

 

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (1902)

Another childhood favourite of mine of which you are less likely to know the big twist. And you know what, like a lot of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels even if you have read it, the solutions are either so complicated and outlandish or unexpectedly pedestrian that the reader often has difficulty recalling the exact circumstances of the crime and the solution to the riddle. But that is a genius detective novel for you, their leaps of inductive reasoning (not deductive as any first-year critical thinking student will tell you) are incredibly entertaining but often don’t stand up to scrutiny. A fantastic story though, possibly the best in the Holmes canon.

Available for free on Project Gutenberg

 

Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier

Du Maurier, I would hazard to say is one of the great geniuses of gothic romanticism. Often eclipsed by her predecessors, the Bronte’s (for there are more than cursory similarities) she crafts books that paint a bleak, yet compelling picture of the world surrounding a young girl who is generally a damsel in distress. Her damsels in distress are often isolated without a clear ally. She uses tropes artfully, without letting them becomes cliches, and creates a few new narrative devices that will be deployed often and with great enthusiasm by her successors.

Available to buy at The Book Depository

 

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Frontispiece illustration from the book, The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

This is stretching the definition of gothic I know, and most people would turn to Collins’ other, more conventionally romantic gothic novel The Woman in White. I am ashamed to say I haven’t read it yet. The Moonstone is part detective novel, part romance, part scathing indictment on contemporary society and colonialism.

Available for free at Project Gutenberg

 

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1817)

Yes, Jane Austen. This is possibly one of the most cleverly crafted gothic novels and yet, it started life as a parody of one of the most influential stories of gothic romanticism of its time; The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Catherine Morland, the hero of the piece, encounters many tropes of gothic fiction, but they are all overcome with a practicality and wit that is so uniquely Austen.

Available for free at Project Gutenberg

 

Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1862)

We could easily call this sensation fiction narrative a proto-detective novel. If the style of dress and manner of speech were 70 years in the future you could easily see this novel fitting in with the detective noir genre. There is double-crossing, murder, mistaken identity, a femme fatale and private investigator of a kind.

Available for free at Project Gutenberg as part of The World’s Greatest Books Volume 2

 

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (1848)

If you are going to read a Bronte novel, might I humbly suggest this epistolary novel by possibly the least appreciated Bronte aside from Branwell? There are remarkably less awful people who you are supposed to sympathise with and decidedly less harmful relationships. It’s not a hugely popular opinion but I’ll take Anne Bronte over her sisters (and obviously Branwell) any day.

Available for free at Project Gutenberg

 

 

The Absurdity of The Canterville Ghost

The Canterville Ghost is a very silly Victorian Ghost story that Oscar Wilde released in two parts, in 1887. It was the prolific author’s first published story. It sets the tone for a huge swathe of horror comedies that feature a very ineffectual haunting. The humorous ghost story is a strange literary creature that subverts expectations and has become somewhat of a cliche. But in a time when the supernatural was given more mainstream credence this disarming use of humour would have had a very different effect on the reader.

Not only did Oscar Wilde release his first story during the final gasps of the romantic movement and at the birth of modernity, but he released the story during the rapid spread of the spiritualism movement. Ghostly spectres and powerful intangible phantoms were actively sought out by interested parties, and it was terribly fashionable to hold seances and be informed of the symbolism of the spiritual realm. It is a story that perfectly encapsulates the way in which Wilde’s work is transitional between the romantic and modern literary movements.

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“He met with a severe fall” – Illustration by Wallace Goldsmith of the effects of a butter slide set up by the twins as part of their campaign of practical jokes against the ghost.

Who is the Canterville Ghost?

The American Otis family are told upon buying Canterville Chase in England, that the estate is haunted. The ghost has terrified the Canterville family for decades and is often an omen that appears before the death of a member of the family. The Otis family refuse to believe that there is anything supernatural about their new home.

They are of course wrong.

Sir Simon, the former occupant of the house who killed his wife then disappeared makes his presence felt through a blood stain that will not fade and physical apparitions. He has a huge variety of haunting tools and visages at his disposal, such as representing himself as a headless spectre, he has also been previously known to physically injure his victims. Even scaring some to death.

But the new inhabitants of the chase, however, turn this terrifying phantom into a grumpy, exhausted and battered creature who no longer stalks the corridors, rather shuffles along in slippers and warm clothes to combat the chill from drafts.

I’m unsure as to whether Sir Simon is the first of his kind, in being a formerly formidable spectre who is rendered impotent by the materialism and pragmaticism of modernity.

What is different about the Otis family?

Through the oiling of noisy chains and the cleaning of ominous, reappearing “blood” stains, the Otis family undermines every artifice of haunting that the ghost has at his disposal. Even the hauntings that he manages to pull off are laughed at by the twins or entirely backfire due to the twin’s concerted efforts to torture the ghostly spectre of Sir Simon who has haunted generations of British nobility and their servants. It seems to be their dissociation from the realm of English folklore which grants them immunity from the ill effects of the spiritual realm.

Virginia is the only member of the family who comes even close to a classical gothic character of the human realm. She is vulnerable to the haunting similar to the British characters, however, her link to her modern American family seems to have kept her safe from the more horrific aspects of the haunting. Her strength of character and depth of understanding makes her the ultimate foil to Sir Simon’s legacy of terror. Sir Simon confides in the young girl, giving her the tools to stop the haunting and free the dead nobleman once and for all.

Perhaps the ghost realises that he is no longer relevant as he beholds the modern American family, which, let’s face it, Wilde portrays as grotesque in their own way. Is Wilde bemoaning the loss of gothic romanticism and folkloric tradition and the hands of the crude family? Or is he celebrating the modern thinking of the American people who are untethered to the restrictive tradition of the British Isles?

The_Canterville_Ghost_illustration

How on earth are you going to connect this one to Frankenstein?

I have had a bit of a think about this and maybe the strongest of the tangential threads that connect Frankenstein or the Modern Day Prometheus to the Canterville Ghost is the collision between the romanticism of the 19th-century horror story and the critical thinking and scientific reasoning that was emerging before Mary Shelley put pen to paper. Shelley’s narrative is still firmly entrenched in the lore of ages past, but her Doctor is a man of science and the spectre of her novel is a being of undead science. Conversely, Wilde’s spectre Sir Simon is still firmly placed in traditional gothic ideas of the ghost, but the narrative is a distinctly modern one.

In short, I’m going to go ahead and say that both narratives deal with the juxtaposition of the romantic gothic novel and an increasingly pragmatic and modern reality.

The Monstrosity of Orchids – Floral Arrangments in Dorian Gray

This is the last Dorian Gray post for a while for The FrankenPod I swear!

If you have read the 1891 book or even watched the first season of Penny Dreadful you will be asking… Hey Dorian what’s with all the weird flower sniffing?

In his gothic masterpiece The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde is pretty blatant in his symbolism, he basically hits us over the head with a laburnum branch (symbolic of forsaken, pensive beauty apparently). That doesn’t mean that the symbolism is worthless by virtue of its visibility. There is something charming in Wilde’s insistence that we acknowledge the collective symbolic weight of flowers. It is what makes Wilde easy for students to dissect for meaning and also what upsets those who like their literary motifs and themes more artfully hidden.

So what is with all the flowers?

The flowers can be read as a representation of sensory temptation as in this passage from the very first meeting between Dorian and Lord Henry:

“Lord Henry went out to the garden and found Dorian Gray burying his face in the great cool lilac-blossoms, feverishly drinking in their perfume as if it had been wine. He came close to him and put his hand upon his shoulder. “You are quite right to do that,” he murmured. “Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.”

Lord Henry is using Dorian’s little sensory indulgences as a gateway to more lascivious behaviour. Henry is the ultimate voyeur, his corruption of Dorian Gray is purely experimental, creating a spectacle to observe. Is it possible Lord Henry is a sociopath?

Henry also uses flowers to open the door to paranoia, fear of the passing of time and the advent of old age. Flowers are temporary and wilt and wither like youth. But flowers renew seasonally Dorian will not.

“The common hill-flowers wither, but they blossom again. The laburnum will be as yellow next June as it is now. In a month there will be purple stars on the clematis, and year after year the green night of its leaves will hold its purple stars. But we never get back our youth. The pulse of joy that beats in us at twenty, becomes sluggish. Our limbs fail, our senses rot. We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to. Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!”

This passage of Lord Henry’s evangelism is followed by an important visual representation of Dorian’s naivety surrounding the rapid loss of youth in which he drops “a spray of lilacs” (lilacs being symbolic of purity and innocence) discarding the first protective layer of his innocence. Then there is a weird bit of action with a bee and a flower that some read to be sexual, and it is a bit weird but I think it might have to do with pollination and the beginning of Lord Henry’s corruption of Dorian. But what do I know?

On the subject of Lord Henry’s manipulation here is a weird flower laden passage in which creepy Henry is creepy.

“Lord Henry watched him with a subtle sense of pleasure. How different he was now from the shy, frightened boy he had met in Basil Hallward’s studio! His nature had developed like a flower, had borne blossoms of scarlet flame.”

Basil, however, establishes the flower as Symbolic of the soul very early on in the novel as he describes his relationship with Dorian:

“Then I feel, Harry, that I have given away my whole soul to someone who treats it as if it were a flower to put in his coat, a bit of decoration to charm his vanity, an ornament for a summer’s day”

In the final confrontation between Dorian and Basil, Dorian crushes a flower which could signify Basil’s soul or Dorian’s innocence or both as he is about to murder his friend who was completely besotted with him from the outset. Later as Dorian has resolved to murder his friend he crushes the flower which could be a stand-in for Basil’s soul as alluded to previously. Or it could be Dorian crushing his last semblance of innocence or humanity:

“Years ago, when I was a boy,” said Dorian Gray, crushing the flower in his hand, “you met me, flattered me, and taught me to be vain of my good looks. One day you introduced me to a friend of yours, who explained to me the wonder of youth, and you finished the portrait of me that revealed to me the wonder of beauty. In a mad moment, that, even now, I don’t know whether I regret or not, I made a wish, perhaps you would call it a prayer….

Flowers as Symbolic of Innocence and Virginity

The flowers can also be interpreted as a symbol of innocence with the three key players, Basil, Dorian and Lord Henry practically engulfed by flowers as the story opens, perhaps signifying the innocence that would gradually disappear as we go deeper into Dorian’s downward spiral. 

There is also a great deal of floral imagery surrounding the innocent Sybil, with Sybil being explicitly likened to a flower;

A low moan broke from her, and she flung herself at his feet, and lay there like a trampled flower. “Dorian, Dorian, don’t leave me!” she whispered. “I am so sorry I didn’t act well. I was thinking of you all the time. But I will try—indeed, I will try.

Particular features of Sybil are also referred to in floral terms such as her lips being like petals. However late we find that not all flowers can be considered innocent and pure, there is one flower that is given monstrous connotations.

The Monstrosity of Orchids

Orchids are traditionally symbolic of beauty, luxury and love, they also have associations with sexuality, virility and lust depending on the colour. The potential of orchids to represent qualities of than innocence depending on their colour becomes apparent during the corruption of Dorian as he reads the Yellow Book that was given to him by Lord Henry:

There were in it metaphors as monstrous as orchids and as subtle in colour

The orchid as a monstrosity and the relevance of its colour is relevant when we consider this interchange between Dorian and Francis after the death of Basil:

“Yes,” said Dorian. “And I am afraid, Francis, that I have another errand for you. What is the name of the man at Richmond who supplies Selby with orchids?”

“Harden, sir.”

“Yes—Harden. You must go down to Richmond at once, see Harden personally, and tell him to send twice as many orchids as I ordered, and to have as few white ones as possible. In fact, I don’t want any white ones. It is a lovely day, Francis, and Richmond is a very pretty place, otherwise I wouldn’t bother you about it.”

The absence or removal of white orchids (traditionally symbolic of innocence)  is perhaps symbolic of the removal of the last of Dorian’s humanity, now he only wants what is seen as dark and monstrous.

Bye Bye Dorian, you selfish pain in the butt.

Go sniff flowers elsewhere!

Sincerely

Morgan

 

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