Percy Frankenstein/Victor Shelley

When a novel like Frankenstein appears to come out of the blue and change the world of literature forever, finding the inspiration behind it can keep scholars and enthusiasts busy for centuries (yep, we hit year 200 of Frankenstein publication this year!). Finding the inspiration for the troubled and deeply problematic figure of Victor Frankenstein is one of the primary areas of interest. A pretty popular, and generally accepted theory of the doctor’s origins is that he is partially based on none other but Mary Shelley’s husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley (yes, I blew the reveal in the title).

Posthumous Portrait of Shelley Writing Prometheus Unbound 1845 Joseph Severn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Posthumous Portrait of Shelley Writing Prometheus Unbound 1845 Joseph Severn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Here are some of the cornerstones of the argument:

Victor was Percy’s Pen Name ¹

Percy used the pen name Victor in a collection of poetry he wrote with his sister Elizabeth (writing as Cazire). You can read Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire on the internet archive. Check out the link in the references.

Percy Played with Electricity²

Percy took a keen interest in science since his early school days. His interests included astronomy, chemistry and… electricity. His interest was kindled by an assortment of teachers and tutors and he kept up to date with new developments in the scientific community, including the experiments of Erasmus Darwin as touched on in the 1831 introduction to Frankenstein³.

Antiquated Science and the Occult ⁴

In Frankenstein; Or the Modern Day Prometheus, Victor explains that at the foundation of his love of science is the, now outdated and viewed as occult, authors Agrippa and Paracelsus (see The Mortal Immortal for more on Mary Shelley and Cornelius Agrippa). Percy Bysshe Shelley was also familiar with the works of these specific writers and had more than a passing interest in their more outlandish hypotheses. He spent a good deal of money on books of witchcraft and magic when he was young, and you can certainly see that reflected in his poetry.

The Illuminati Connection⁵

It seems that Mary sent Victor to Ingolstadt University which was known for a particularly atheistic movement headed by Prof. Weishaupt. A group was founded called … GASP The Illuminati in 1776. This group advocated for a more enlightened state not run by the government of their day or by the religious establishment, or some mix of the two. As you can imagine these ideas were fascinating to a radical (for his time obviously) atheist like Percy Shelley. So is the locating of Victor’s formative years in the Bavarian Ingolstadt a nod to Percy’s enthusiasm for the Illuminati? Possibly not, but it’s a nice idea.

Hubris⁶

It could be that Percy’s atheism was troubling Mary. She was more orthodox in her beliefs than Percy. It’s entirely possible, in fact probable, that Mary thought this desire to view the world without God was to greatly overestimate the role of human autonomy. The hubris associated with atheism and ideas behind self-determination certainly lends itself to a Frankenstein narrative when viewed through the lens of typically 19th century English sensibilities.

Grief⁶

Similar to Mary’s despair at Percy’s dismissal of the role of a God as an omnipotent creator, was her dismay at the apparent indifference he demonstrated after the death of their first child. This is demonstrated in her letters to others. She felt the grief intensely but Percy seemed willing to leave the whole devastating business behind them without moarning as she did. This ability to shut out the tragedy of their first child’s death could potentially be seen as being echoed in Victor’s rejection of his creation.

There a few other points of commonality that I am not going to get into here include; family structure, education and Percy and Victor perhaps sharing an Oedipal complex, that last one is really interesting, but I have plans for that topic!

But there is also an argument that the poet was the inspiration for Henry Clerval more on that another time.

These theories are not mutually exclusive, it is entirely possible that Mary Shelley put a little of Percy in every guy she wrote. He was the main adult male person she spent time with for years after all.

Inspired by:

Legacy.owensboro.kctcs.edu. (2018). PercyModel. [online] Available at: http://legacy.owensboro.kctcs.edu/crunyon/CE/Frankenstein/Name/Prometheus/percymodel.htm [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].

References

  1. Archive.org. (2018). Full text of “Original poetry by Victor & Cazire (Percy Bysshe Shelley & Elizabeth Shelley) Edited by Richard Garnett”. [online] Available at: https://archive.org/stream/originalpoetryby00sheluoft/originalpoetryby00sheluoft_djvu.txt [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].
  2. King-Hele, D. (1992). Shelley and Science. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 46(2), 253-265. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/531637
  3. Shelley, M. (2018). Frankenstein, or Modern Prometheus. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg.
  4. Bieri, J., 2004. Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Youth’s Unextinguished Fire, 1792-1816 (Vol. 1). University of Delaware Press.
  5. Vickery, M. (2018). The birthplace of the Illuminati. [online] Bbc.com. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20171127-the-birthplace-of-the-illuminati [Accessed 1 Mar. 2018].
  6. CARSON, J., & Carson, J. (1988). Bringing the Author Forward: “Frankenstein” Through Mary Shelley’s Letters. Criticism, 30(4), 431-453. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/stable/23112085

The Shelley Kids

This article is part of an exploration of Frankenstein or The Modern Day Prometheus and it’s author Mary Shelley by The FrankenPod (A Frankenstein Podcast).

Top image: Nerijus Navickas [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Percy Bysshe Shelley was married twice in his short lifetime. He had two children, Ianthe and Charles from his doomed marriage with Harriet and four children with Mary, only one of which survived into adulthood. But what happened to these kids that came from one of the most discussed tragedies of the romantic movement. Prepare yourself for a lot of child death, it’s going to get grim.

 

 

ianthe_shelley_bw
Ianthe Shelley

Ianthe Elizabeth Shelley

Daughter of Harriet and Percy

Born: 28th of June, 1813, Middlesex, London, England

Died: 16th of June 1876, Gloucestershire, England

Commonly called Eliza, Ianthe married Sir Edward Jefferies Esdaile. Harriet left her some of Percy’s rough draft notebooks later referred to as “The Esdaile Notebooks”. There is also a book of Percy’s Sonnets addressed to her.

She had six children, one of which is listed as being born after Ianthe’s death on geni which is weird, not sure what is happening there. Her children were named; Ianthe Harriet, Eliza Margaret, Charles Edward Jefferies, William, Mary Emily Sydney, Una Dean (which is the one that is mysteriously born after her death? I think it might be an estimate. If anyone knows what is going on here please get in touch thefrankenpod@gmail.com)

 

Charles Shelley

Born: 12th (?) of November 1814

Died: Struck by lightning in 1826?

I can’t find any corroboration for the lightning, he would have been 12. He did however have tuberculosis so it is more likely he succumbed to that. Both Charles and Ianthe were in the care of their maternal family after their mother’s suicide.

 

Clara Shelley

Daughter of Percy and Mary

Born in 1815, died at 13 days old

 

William Shelley By Amelia Curran (1775-1849) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
William Shelley By Amelia Curran (1775-1849) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

William Shelley

Son of Percy and Mary

Born: 24th of January 1816

Died: 2nd of January 1819

Named after his grandfather, William Godwin, William travelled with his parents from the moment he was born. He was present at the holiday by Lake Geneva. He had the nickname Willmouse and in a time of high infant mortality was doing pretty well, until he contracted cholera in Italy. He died aged 2. There seem to be similarities between Willmouse and William, the younger brother of Frankenstein who is the creature’s first murder victim.

 

Clara Everina Shelley

Daughter of Percy and Mary

Born: 14th of May 1817

Died: 24th September 1818

Clara died as an infant whilst the family was travelling.

 

 Elena Adelaide Shelley

Daughter of Percy and “Marina Padurin”

Referred to by Shelley as his “Neopolitan ward”

Born: 27th of December 1818

Died: 10th of June 1820

The details of this baby girl are somewhat of a mystery, some claim she was Claire Clairmont’s baby (Mary Shelley’s sister), others claim that she was adopted by Shelley in a perhaps misguided attempt to distract Mary from the death of her children.  There is a further theory that perhaps she was the daughter of Percy and the Shelley family nursemaid Elise Fogg. Elena was left in the care of an Italian family and died a year and a half later.

 

Percy Florence Shelley

Born: 12th of November 1818

Died: 5th of November 1889

Percy Florence Shelley deserves a whole post of his own as he was largely responsible for Mary’s legacy after her death and his influence had shaped contemporary understandings of her authorship in much the same way a Charlotte Brontë “preserved” her family legacy. So we will come back to him at a later date.

Mary_Shelleys_Family_Tree
See page for author [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Bibliography

References

geni_family_tree. (2018). Ianthe Elizabeth Esdaile. [online] Available at: https://www.geni.com/people/Ianthe-Esdaile/6000000018078868508 [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].

Knarf.english.upenn.edu. (2018). Harriet Shelley. [online] Available at: http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/People/hshelley.html [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].

Knarf.english.upenn.edu. (2018). Percy Bysshe Shelley. [online] Available at: http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/PShelley/pshelley.html [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].

Knarf.english.upenn.edu. (2018). William Shelley. [online] Available at: http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/People/wshelley.html [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].

Wikitree.com. (2018). Ianthe Eliza (Shelley) Esdaile (1814-1876) | WikiTree FREE Family Tree. [online] Available at: https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Shelley-562 [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].

John Polidori and the Infinite Sadness

Accompanying episode: John Polidori and the Infinite Sadness

John Polidori

Born on 7th of September, 1795 in London.

Died aged 25 on the 24th of August, 1821, in London

Polidori wrote his thesis on sleepwalking during his time studying at the University of Edinburgh (name-checked more than once in our Body Snatchers episode with Courtney from Cult of Domesticity). He became a qualified doctor of medicine at the age of 19.

Sleep-walking plays a role in 19th and 20th-century vampire mythology, but this isn’t attributed to Polidori. Dracula, Carmilla and Varney all use sleepwalking as a kind of hypnotic state induced by the Count.

The young doctor was employed by on Lord George Gordon Byron, to accompany him while he was on his Grand Tour of Europe which would eventually lead them to The Villa Diodati, we’ve covered that here, so I’m going to go ahead and skip this bit. Except I better mention that Polidori was paid 500 pounds to keep a diary of the exploits of the “rockstar” poet by publisher John Murray.

The Fragment Debacle

Byron wrote a Fragment as part of the infamous ghost story challenge, Mary started Frankenstein and both Percy and Polidori started stories that they gave up on soon after. But when Byron discarded the fragment, Polidori used it as a springboard for his novel The Vampyre. Utilizing aspects of the fragment such as the character Arthur Darvill he created a full narrative, a far cry from the discarded document. Polidori took that fragment and turned it into what is believed to be the first vampire story written and published in English. The Vampyre was published a magazine without his permission (CORRECTION ALERT: I stated he gave permission in the Villa Diodati episode but that doesn’t seem to be true) and attributed it to Byron. I’m not sure how The New Monthly Magazine got hold of the manuscript but publishers had heard of this lost fragment of Byron’s and seem to have presumed that The Vampyre was it.

Byron and Polidori both printed corrections but the damage was done, particularly to Polidori’s psyche. He had tried to appeal to Percy and Byron to help him with his writing career and Byron annihilated him. The once The Vampyre was no longer attributed to Byron the public and critical reception turned bad. People no longer wanted to read it and actively condemned it.

Embarrassed and depressed he tried to enter the monastery and become a monk but that didn’t work out, then he tried to study law, but that didn’t work out either. He began to accumulate gambling debts and eventually felt so hopeless that he drank prussic acid and died aged 25.

Excellent Public Domain Article on this By Arthur McConnell Stott

His some of his published works were his thesis, The Vampyre (attributed to Byron), a poem The Fall of Angels (published anonymously in 1921) and his diary which would only be released in edited form in 1911 by his nephew.

ReWriting History

Mary Shelley disagrees Polidori’s actions at the Villa Diodati. In her 1831 introduction to a reprint of Frankenstein she says that it was a conversation between Byron and Shelley:

“Many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley, to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life”

-Mary Shelley 1831

William Rosetti’s edited version of Polidori’s Diary indicates it was likely Polidori:

The conversation between Shelley and Polidori about “principles”and “whether man was to be thought merely an instrument” appears to have some considerable analogy with a conversation to which Mary Shelley and Professor Dowden refer, and which raised in her mind a train of thought conducing to her invention of Frankenstein and his Man-monster. Mary, however, speaks of Byron (not Polidori) as the person who conversed with Shelley on that occasion. Professor Dowden, paraphrasing some remarks made by Mary, says: “One night she sat listening to a conversation between the two poets at Diodati. What was the nature, they questioned, of the principle of life? Would it ever be discovered, and the power of communicating life be acquired? Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated; galvanism had given token of such things. That night Mary lay sleepless,” etc.

-William Rossetti 1911

He must have really upset her, possibly when he propositioned her while she was on holiday with her boyfriend and her small child? That could do it!

Or alternately was Polidori misattributing Byron’s conversation to himself?

She also mentions Byron’s Fragment without making so much as a mention of The Vampyre, simply judging Polidori for his abandoned attempt at the lakeside Villa that night. Shelley does not owe Polidori any charity, but it is curious how willfully she avoids attributing him with even the slightest value.

Family Legacy

Polidori, continued to be a footnote in literary and cultural history as his nieces and nephews would go on to be much more critically acclaimed; Dante (poet and artist), Willian (writer), Maria (writer) and Christina Rossetti (Poet; My essay on Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market) Polidori never met them, he died before they were born.

Bysshes Love Poetry – Percy Bysshe Shelley

This article is part of The FrankenPod‘s (A Frankenstein Podcast) continued exploration of Frankenstein and its author Mary Godwin/Mary Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Born: 4th of August, 1792 in Sussex, England

Died: 18th of July 1822, by drowning in Lerici, Italy

Percy Bysshe Shelley is a strange and even a little elusive character; not destructive like Byron, but certainly not without his own brand of violence and willfulness. Elusive actually is probably a fair assessment, he is only elusive in the same way that most of us are, in that we can’t really guess at his motivation for many of the actions he takes, some of which seem totally inexplicable.

The young Percy was born into a family of means and went to Syon House Academy in London for his early education where he showed a particular interest in science, and a violent response to bullying. This may have planted the seed that lead to the poet pushing back against all forms of control and governance, which he saw as a form of bullying, for the rest of his life³. This anti authoritative streak inevitably drew him to the great antiestablishment thinker of his time, the often anarchsitic writer and philosopher, William Godwin (The father of Mary Godwin, later Shelley). But before we end up at William Godwin’s residence in The Polygon we must first address the often pushed aside figure in this story¹:

ianthe_shelley_bw
Ianthe Shelley

Harriet Westbrook/Shelley

Harriet Westbrook was born on the 1st of August 1795. She was intellegent, witty and the daughter of a coffee house owner in Grosvener Square². Harriet forged a friendship with Shelley’s younger sister Helen, and the match appears to have been encouraged, at least by the Westbrook’s as a marraige between the two would mean an elevation in class for their daughter². The two eloped to Scotland when Harriet was 16 and Percy, 19. The legality of the marraige was dubious so they remarried 3 years later. They had two children, Charles and Ianthe together, but not long after the birth of their first child Percy began disappearing for long periods of time. Supported by her family, and given financial support from Percy, the rapid and messy separation did not leave her financially destitute, but emotionally the whole ideal had caused a great deal of distress and trauma. This grief, for grief we must call it, was intensified when Percy and Mary ran off together. There is talk of her taking a lover, and it is documented that she took lodging away from her family as she had become pregnant again, this time out of wedlock.

At some stage after this, still pregnant, in 1816, the year of the events in the Villa Diodati, she wrote emotional farewell letters to her family, and drowned herself in the Serpentine River.

I think we’ll end this post here with the death of Harriet Shelley nee Westbrook and pick up on Percy’s narrative another time, because this tragedy is too often glossed over.

At what cost do we have Frankenstein in the form Mary wrote it?

It’s certainly not worth the life of a 21 year old, who never asked to be part of this romantic tragedy in the first place.

References

  1. Knarf.english.upenn.edu. (2018). Percy Bysshe Shelley. [online] Available at: http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/PShelley/pshelley.html [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].
  2. Knarf.english.upenn.edu. (2018). Harriet Shelley. [online] Available at: http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/People/hshelley.html [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
  3. Bieri, J., 2004. Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Youth’s Unextinguished Fire, 1792-1816 (Vol. 1). University of Delaware Press.
  4. Featured image: Percy Bysshe Shelley by Amelia Curran- National Portrait Gallery: NPG 1234

Lord Byron vs. The World – Part 1

Byron was the subject of intense gossip during his lifetime, and as you’ll recall from our Villa Diodati episode, people would pay money to find out about the choicest Bryon gossip. 196 years later people are still researching, writing and reading about the scandalous Lord’s life and the many controversies that surround him. Byron rumours are still a sought-after commodity and with the many notable biographers and scholars who have written extensively on his life, I really didn’t think I would do the wealth of information justice. So here are a few of the more tame Byron stories to get us started

 

The Unlucky Caul ¹

The caul is a membrane sack that some babies still have surrounding them when they are born. There was a superstition which stated that a preserved caul, carried by a seafaring person would prevent them from drowning. Byron was born with a caul and it was sold to a sailor… who drowned. Not baby Byron’s fault obviously but it sets the tone for a lifetime being “dangerous to know” (Lady Caroline Lamb in 1812, maybe²).

 

 

He kept a bear at Cambridge³

This well-documented fact is less of a scandal these days and more of an oddity, provided you don’t think about it too hard. In protestation of the university’s rules against keeping animals, Byron acquired a bear and kept it in his rooms. The quality of life that the bear experienced is the part that is less funny and more tragic.

 

Lord Byron’s orthopaedic boot, England, 1781-1810
Lord Byron’s orthopaedic boot, England, 1781-1810 http://broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/objects/display?id=92636

His Club Foot¹

Much has been made of Byron’s clubfoot, perhaps because it is one of the few solid facts we have in a sea of speculation about the Lord’s physical condition. His reaction to it as a child was to periodically overcompensate for the impairment with intense physical exercise, referred to as “violent”. This is not the last time that we will encounter the word violent in relation to the Lord’s life. It is speculated that perhaps the club foot and other medical issues may stem from infantile asphyxia caused by that cursed caul.

 

Part 2 Coming Soon

 

 

Citations

  1. Celestin, Roger. “Pathos and Pathology in the Life of Lord Byron.” West of England Medical Journal 106.4 (1991): 105–106. Print.
  2. David, Stenhouse. “Just Nuts about Byron.” Sunday Times, the, n.d. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.deakin.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=n5h&AN=7EH3316029372&authtype=sso&custid=deakin&site=eds-live&scope=site.
  3. University of Cambridge. (2018). Lord Byron and the bears beneath Cambridge. [online] Available at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/lord-byron-and-the-bears-beneath-cambridge [Accessed 25 Feb. 2018].

Just a Phase – Claire Clairemont

This article was written as part of The FrankenPod’s exploration of Mary Shelley and the events at The Villa Diodati.

Claire Clairmont

Born: 27th April 1798 near Bristol

Died: 19th March 1879 in Florence

Published works: none

“But in our family, if you cannot write an epic or novel, that by its originality knocks all other novels on the head, you are a despicable creature, not worth acknowledging”

Claire Clairmont to Jane Williams

 

Curran, Amelia, 1775-1847; Claire Clairmont (1798-1879)
Curran, Amelia, 1775-1847; Claire Clairmont (1798-1879)

Claire was born Clara, was nicknamed Jane as a child, and then adopted Claire in her teenage years. She was a wild teenager, and it sounds like she would have been a lot of fun until she got bogged down by Byron and all his drama.

It is quite possible she had some kind of affair with Percy Bysshe Shelley who was married to Harriet and already having an affair with Mary. Some of his poems are thought to be about her and their affair may have resulted in a baby called Elena. A baby by that name was registered as being born to Shelley and “Maria” but Mary could not have been the mother. If Claire was the mother she went up Mount Vesuvius just before she gave birth which is a weird call.

Whoever Elena was, she had a short life in foster care and died age one.

This brings us to Byron.

See Villa Diodati for more details on that mess. After her affair with Byron, she realized she was pregnant with his child. She wrote lengthy letters to the poet beseeching him to help her, financially and emotionally. But we’ve discussed how awful Byron was so you can probably guess how that went.

AllegraByron
Allegra Byron

Allegra

She had a daughter Allegra with no support whatsoever from Byron. Then in an effort to provide the best possible opportunities for her daughter, she sent Allegra to him in Italy.

I get it, a single mother, in Regency England, she didn’t have many options. She also had no way of knowing how little the poet would have to do with little Allegra once she arrived in Italy. Allegra was placed in a convent, alone. Byron never visited her.

Claire was furious! Byron had promised her that Allegra would at least be able to see him, not directly under his care, but at least in his house. Byron was unresponsive to her letters and requests to get Allegra back. So she formed a cunning plan.

The Kidnap Plot

Claire was intensely unhappy and worried about her daughter’s wellbeing in the convent. Her living conditions were unknown to Claire, but she did not hold out much hope for the suitability and safety of her accommodations. She was just a little kid, and if her father was going to neglect her she should be with her mother. Claire began to plan to get her daughter back. She tried to convince Percy Bysshe Shelley to forge a letter from Byron allowing Claire to remove Allegra from the convent. But before she could put her plan into action little Allegra died of typhus or a malarial like fever aged just 5. The only person to visit Allegra during her time in the Italian convent was Percy. Claire blamed Byron, understandably so, and ferociously hated the poet beyond his death saying that he had ‘given her only a few minutes of pleasure but a lifetime of trouble’.

After Allegra, then Shelley’s death, Claire’s desire in life seemed to be finding some semblance of peace and normalcy. It seems a though the rollercoaster of Claire’s early adult years had quenched whatever desire for turbulent romantic entanglements she had had. She spent time as a music teacher, a governess and a few other respectable and consistent jobs. She kept in touch with her stepsister Mary, and while their old rivalry and competitiveness occasionally caused a ripple, they stayed in correspondence until Mary’s death. Mary for her part said that she thought that is was impossible that Percy and Claire had a physical relationship. No matter what the truth is in regard to the nature of their relationship, it is clear they cared a great deal for each other.

Claire never married, an unusual choice at the time, but when taken in the context of what she endured at the hands of Lord Byron, it is not surprising. She had her fair share of suitors, including Trelawny who was part of the Shelley circle towards the end of Shelley and Byron’s lives. But Claire was fine without the drama.

She outlived all of her companions who were there at the Villa Diodati on the fateful night of the ghost story challenge. I find Claire the most relatable out of the bunch. Her life didn’t go exactly how she planned and she was not some inaccessible gothic romantic heroine.

She was Claire, and nevertheless, she persisted.

 

Something I learned about Frankenstein from Bette London

This is an article written as part of The FrankenPod‘s exploration of Frankenstein or The Modern Day Prometheus and Mary Shelley.

This is a review of an article I have used repeatedly in my writing on Frankenstein or the Modern Day Prometheus. I will not be providing enough detail to negate reading the actual article. Please seek out Bette London’s article Mary Shelley, Frankenstein and the Spectacle of Masculinity in its entirety.

Bette London’s article starts by describing the reframing of Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s stories by their son Percy. The son was much more conventionally Christian and embarrassed by the risque reputation his parents had garnered. Front and centre of this rebrand of the Shelley story is the statue by Henry Weekes at the top of the article which uses Christian iconography to paint a picture of Mary as a Madonna-like figure to the spectacle of Shelley’s masculine martyrdom.

London then goes on to critique both feminist and nonfeminist readings of Frankenstein and this is the bit where I started to really pay attention. She asserts that the sexless or female reading of the Creature’s gender and even that of his creator as a feminist reading draws focus away from the very obvious spectacle of the masculine form that reoccurs throughout the novel. Emphasis is placed on the physical male form, and it is laid out periodically for others to gaze upon. If we deny the masculinity of Victor and his Creature we deny Mary Shelley‘s deliberately and explicitly masculine spectacle which she artfully constructed to highlight the hubris and deficiencies of this particular brand of masculine creation.

You may notice that I often refer to Mary Shelley as Shelley, rather than adhering to convention and using Shelley as a shorthand for Percy Bysshe Shelley. It is really down to Bette London’s article on the male spectacle in Frankenstein, in which she points out that that the esteemed authoress is always Mary to Percy’s Shelley, even in scholarship surrounding Frankenstein that should give greater deference to the author of the text.

It gets confusing because I am so accustomed to this mode of addressing the poet as Shelley, a la Byron, Keats and Coleridge, that I often slip and have to go back through an article to check how many times I messed up.

This over-familiarity when addressing Mary Shelley, in addition to the portrayal of her authorship as monstrous shows an almost calculated dismissal of her role as one of the most influential gothic, horror and proto-science fiction authors in the English literary canon.

“How could a girl of 18 write such a confronting story?”

FrankensteinDraft
Draft of Frankenstein (“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld my man completed …”)

Well, because she is intelligent, imaginative and more than little disenfranchised. She also had a lot of opportunities to flourish that she might not have had if she was not surrounded by “radicals” who had already been prepped for an intelligent, persistent and creative woman by her mother. It’s not that strange when put in perspective, and if we take away those antiquated notions of the fragility of a young maiden. Frankenstein is singular, groundbreaking and monstrous; Shelley’s authorship, however, should not be viewed in similar terms.

Shelley should be regarded as a genius of gothic fiction, rather than a mysterious anomaly. The woman of the 1810s was exposed to her share of gruesome spectacles and overwhelming sorrow, so what, aside from a lack of access to education and the means of publication, was so different between the male aspiring writer and the female?

It is simply a matter of social conditioning and fewer opportunities.

And if we are too busy looking at the monstrous spectacle of female authorship, we’re likely to miss the spectacle of male ego, cruelty and hubris that is right in front of our faces.

Anarchy in the U.K. – William Godwin

The article was written as part of The FrankenPod’s continuing exploration of Frankenstein, or The Modern Day Prometheus, and it’s author Mary Shelley.

WilliamGodwin
William Godwin, oil on canvas, 1802, 29 1/2 in. x 24 1/2 in. (749 mm x 622 mm), “Godwin liked Northcote’s portrait, describing it as ‘The principal memorandum of my corporal existence that will remain after my death.’ With the light hitting the philosopher’s temples, Northcote symbolised Godwin’s belief in progress based on reason.”

William Godwin

Born March 3, 1756

Died April 7, 1836

‘This light was lent to me for a very short period, and is now extinguished for ever!’

William Godwin’s memoir of Mary Wollstonecraft, 1798

There is a reason that the rebellious authors, poets and thinker of the Shelley circle were drawn to Mary Shelley’s Dad. William Godwin was considered quite the radical with views of individuals and self-moderation that advocated a kind of communalism or anarchy. He was a prolific writer, who wrote often anonymously to journals, newspapers and magazines providing a dissenting voice in the face of the Prime Ministerial governance of William Pitt the younger. These ideas intrigued and enthralled many of the creatives of the romantic movement who often pushed against societal norms and were themselves a dissenting voice.

I know very little about political systems, so if you can help me to understand this a little better please get in touch!

He believed that an overreaching governing body would inevitably turn tyrannous (this is all sounding a bit liberation at this point, maybe I’m explaining it poorly) and that small self-governing communities would be able to serve the best interests of the individual (a little less libertarian perhaps). He believed in the inherent good in mankind, but that the honesty and integrity of a person were systematically corrupted by social constructs.

Wollstonecraft and Godwin had a very intense relationship which started about a year before they married. It seems as though when Wollstonecraft fell pregnant with Mary Godwin who would later be Mary Shelley, William Godwin thought it necessary for them to marry, when they did Wollstonecraft was about three months pregnant. She died from complications after the birth. Godwin was devastated, they had been together less than two years. He set about publishing her remaining works and writing her biography.

Here is his preface from “Posthumous Works of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”, it makes me cry every damn time I read it:

The public are here presented with the last literary attempt of an author, whose fame has been uncommonly extensive, and whose talents have probably been most admired, by the persons by whom talents are estimated with the greatest accuracy and discrimination. There are few, to whom her writings could in any case have given pleasure, that would have wished that this fragment should have been suppressed, because it is a fragment. There is a sentiment, very dear to minds of taste and imagination, that finds a melancholy delight in contemplating these unfinished productions of genius, these sketches of what, if they had been filled up in a manner adequate to the writer’s conception, would perhaps have given a new impulse to the manners of a world.

The purpose and structure of the following work, had long formed a favourite subject of meditation with its author, and she judged them capable of producing an important effect. The composition had been in progress for a period of twelve months. She was anxious to do justice to her conception, and recommenced and revised the manuscript several different times. So much of it as is here given to the public, she was far from considering as finished, and, in a letter to a friend directly written on this subject, she says, “I am perfectly aware that some of the incidents ought to be transposed, and heightened by more harmonious shading; and I wished in some degree to avail myself of criticism, before I began to adjust my events into a story, the outline of which I had sketched in my mind.” The only friends to whom the author communicated her manuscript, were Mr. Dyson, the translator of the Sorcerer, and the present editor; and it was impossible for the most inexperienced author to display a stronger desire of profiting by the censures and sentiments that might be suggested.

In revising these sheets for the press, it was necessary for the editor, in some places, to connect the more finished parts with the pages of an older copy, and a line or two in addition sometimes appeared requisite for that purpose. Wherever such a liberty has been taken, the additional phrases will be found inclosed in brackets; it being the editor’s most earnest desire, to intrude nothing of himself into the work, but to give to the public the words, as well as ideas, of the real author.

What follows in the ensuing pages, is not a preface regularly drawn out by the author, but merely hints for a preface, which, though never filled up in the manner the writer intended, appeared to be worth preserving.

W. GODWIN.

 

Notable Works Published:

(Complete Bibliography Here)

History of the Life of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham (1783)

An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness (1793)

Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794)

The Enquirer (1797)

Of Population (1820)

Thoughts on Man: His Nature, Production, and Discoveries (1831)

 

 

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