In this episode of The FrankenPod, we talk a little bit about one of Mary Shelley’s works written for the literary annual The Keepsake. We already covered the ‘Mortal Immortal’ and Shelley published 7 or 8 stories in The Keepsake.
The Keepsake was produced with a particular audience in mind, the relatively new reading demographic or young women. The increased literacy of women in the 19th century, despite the fact that their wandering wombs might be affected by scandalous novels and stories.
But basically, it was still considered relatively dangerous to be exposing women to literature, particularly literature that was scandalous, scary or not completely pious and religious.
Basically historically society has had a pretty dim view of educating women and allowing them to read. Because god knows what they might do if they gained an alternate world view from the ones prescribed by their husbands, fathers and brothers.
Back to keepsake. Because it was aimed at young women it was bound in red dress silk and had lots of pictures.
It was published between 1828, so 10 years after Frankenstein, until 1857, so 10 years after Sweeney Todd on The FrankenPod timeline
The publication was founded by Charles Heath who was actually an engraver, so those amazing pictures?
It took some work but he was able to get Hurst, Chance, & Co to publish the first volume in 1828. It was edited by William Ainsworth who created Dick Turpin the highwayman and very unhelpfully does not list the authors of the stories and poems. We do know that one of the contributions was made by Percy Shelley, William Ainsworth and Felicia Heman who wrote the poem ‘Casablanca’ which starts
The boy stood on the burning deck,
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck,
Shone round him o’er the dead.
Which is this gut punch of a poem about a kid who dies on a burning ship, but that I encountered as a child by my eternally classy father teaching me this version:
The boy stood on the burning deck
Picking his nose like mad,
Rolling it into little balls
And throwing them at his dad.
Anyway there a good 10 or twenty stories and poems in the 1828 The Keepsake that don’t have clear authorship which is a shame. The engravings, however, are all attributed, mostly to Charles Heath.
The Percy Shelley contribution was published posthumously presumably by Mary Shelley, he had drowned 6 years previously.
We do have the authors for the second edition in 1829.
They included Sir Walter Scott, Coleridge who wrote my favourite piece of Albatross inspired literature this is the last bit from Part 1 of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner‘
‘God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—
Why look’st thou so?’—With my cross-bow
I shot the ALBATROSS.
But he hadn’t written that yet, that was 5 years away.
Other attributed authors included Felicia Hemon (Listed as Mrs Hemon) Wordsworth, Southey, so some pretty big names.
The 1829 edition also brings us the first 2 contributions by Mary Shelley – Ferdinando Eboli (pronunciation?) and The Sisters of Albano
There is much more information on Ferdinando Eboli.
It follows the story of Count Ferdinando Eboli who is saying farewell to his loved ones before leaving for the Napoleonic Wars.
At this point, I should probably tell you that the publication The Keepsake was said to showcase second-rate fiction from first-rate authors…
I’ve never felt more Like we need a prepared statement. We have seen the trailer for Mary Shelley! Thank you so much to everyone who emailed and a special thank you to Nick of Nick and Vince’s podcast on Twitter, I love that I’ve been fan girl enough about Frankenstein that people saw the movie come out and though, shit I wonder if The Frankenpod has seen this. I’ll be honest I’ve been nervous about the theatre release of this one since I heard about it being screened at the Toronto Film Festival last year.
I’ll be honest I saw some things included that made me happy, but a few that really made me concerned that I may not like this film. I’ve also seen some interviews that lead me to believe that there was a very passionate Mary Shelley enthusiast in Haifaa Al-Mansour and I looked up the pronunciation but I bet I’ve botched it anyway and that is entirely on me.
Early reviews do not seem to be favourable, and they do seem to have gone for a sensationalised approach, but at least it seems to be intended as a feminist reading of the events so even if it’s a bit outlandish, there might be some value to it. That being said there seem to be no definitive dates for an Australian release so if anyone gets to see it in late May in the U.S. and June in the U.K. you must tell me what it is like!
This actually ties in quite nicely with the story I’m going to tell you tonight actually, sort of…
This time we are going back to our origins, both the podcasts and my own with My Life as A Fake by Peter Carey an entry into the Australian gothic literary canon.
I was obsessed with a Bushranger, other countries read horse stealing, bank robbing outlaw type called Ned Kelly at about the age of 10 or twelve. During this time I read every book on the Kelly gang I could get my hands on, except one. There was one book that I was warned about, a book never to read, a book that crossed the line… IT EMBELLISHED THE FACTS. It is impossible to convey exactly how repulsive that book was to me as a result, creative nonfiction and historical fiction are two of my great genre loves, but back then I viewed the whole matter as a betrayal.
That book was Peter Carey’s True Story of the Kelly Gang. I still haven’t read it, I kind of still fear that I might turn to dust or explode if I tried.
A little more recently I was introduced to the novel discussed today, My Life as a fake. Still incensed by the horror of his Kelly gang book I assumed it was an autobiography. I am not joking.
I was glad he was admitting to his transgressions.
Then I found out it took inspiration from both Frankenstein and one of my favourite literary scandals, yes I have a favourite literary scandal (Welcome to The Frankenpod) the publishing of the posthumous works of Ern Malley
To explain the book in any real way you need to know about Ern Malley
And to tell the tale of Ern Malley you need to know about Angry Penguins
Angry Penguins was an artsy experimental Avante Garde literary publication started by Max Harris in 1940 in Adelaide Australia. He was just 18. The magazine flourished and took submissions, art, prose and poetry. The publication had been going for 4 years when Ethel Malley contacted him via letter, offering up her brother Ernest’s Poetry as a submission to Angry Penguins.
Max Harris was very excited by the works and even commissioned artwork by Sidney Nolan for the front of a special edition featuring Ernest’s poetry.
Sadly Ernest had passed away in 1943, so he would never see his work published. Would you like to hear a little of one of his poems?
Opening of Perspective Lovesong
It was a night when the planets
Were wreathed in dying garlands.
It seemed we had substituted
The abattoirs for the guillotine.
I shall not forget how you invented
Then, the conventions of faithfulness.
It seemed that we were submerged
Under a reef of coral to tantalize
The wise-grinning shark. The waters flashed
With Blue Angels and Moorish Idols.
And if I mistook your dark hair for weed
Was it not floating upon my tides?
The poetry was fresh, new and exciting and the poet was completely oblivious of his own talent, coming from working-class roots. A real diamond in the rough, and Max Harris was determined to give this underdog poet his moment to shine. Ernest, known as Ern to his friends was born in Liverpool in 1918 and migrated to Sydney Australia with his mother and sister just after his father’s passing in 1920. They lived in Perth until his mother’s death in 1933, after which the Young Ern Malley dropped out of school to become an auto mechanic, then moved to Melbourne at the age of 17. In Melbourne, he held a series of jobs before being diagnosed with Graves disease. He moved back to Sydney to be with his sister and died at the very young age of 25, refusing to get treatment for his illness. It seems that unbeknownst to those closest to him the young man had been writing a compilation of poetry called the Darkening Ecliptic. His sister had found his poetry in his belongings and sent it to the magazine.
Except she hadn’t.
Ern Malley wasn’t dead,
No one dies of graves disease
In fact he never existed
He was a hoax by two quite conservative modernist poets named Stewart and McAuley who met during military service, they thought that Angry Penguins and Harris published ridiculous rubbish and put together the most ludicrous submission they could come up with.
And the editor bought it, hook, line and sinker. would you like to hear part of one of the poems?
This is the opening verse of Culture as Exhibit
“Swamps, marshes, borrow-pits and other Areas of stagnant water serve As breeding-grounds …” Now Have I found you, my Anopheles! (There is a meaning for the circumspect) Come, we will dance sedate quadrilles, A pallid polka or a yelping shimmy Over these sunken sodden breeding-grounds! We will be wraiths and wreaths of tissue-paper To clog the Town Council in their plans. Culture forsooth! Albert, get my gun.
The opening lines are from an Army Directorate on mosquitoes, called Anopheles.
The scandal destroyed the magazine
The press had a field day and then the fuss died down and the incident became a bizarre part of Australian literary history.
Except not quite… in Peter Carey’s version of events, with names and details changed subtly. The hoaxer, by creating this tragic poet out of whole cloth creates an actual person, like Victor Frankenstein creating his creature Christopher Chubb has conjured up Bob McCorkle with words alone, and the man has been rendered flesh and blood by the publisher Jack Slater through the simple act of printing the works, and like any act of tremendous hubris in a gothic setting, disaster ensues.
This is another one of those books that I would loathe ruining the story.
However we do have unnatural creation, a crazed creator, the resurrectionists are name-checked, there is murder, kidnapping and aloof hyper-sexualized poets galore. Sound familiar?
Also, this clearly falls in with our theme the gothic city as the bulk of the early action takes place in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia which is depicted from a self consciously post-imperialist British viewpoint. Kuala Lumpur is depicted as a gritty monsoonal labyrinth that smells mainly of fish and tries to reject the visiting Brits, making them ill. There is racism within these pages, and the brutality of the 1969 race riots, is not long past when the books take place, as our narrator Sarah reflects on as she sees a resident using a machete during harvesting.
Sydney and Melbourne also get the Gothic treatment, the gravesites, bleak working-class residences and bohemian multistory abodes. Not quite as vibrant as Kuala Lumpur, or maybe I just don’t find the description of Melbourne that gothic and outlandish, bare in mind I spent about a third of my goth phase passing the time broke and stupid in the alleyways of Melbourne. The book is rife with depictions of the cultural cringe, from Australian ex-pats wanting to deny their heritage to an artist called Noisette actually being Mary Moriss from Wangaratta. We also get a British character saying that an Australia has a tiny antipodean brain.
There are lots of grim gothic allusions, webs, blood, the man upon the stair, a quote from Milton’s Paradise Lost and the stitching together of the visage of Ern Malley.
There are still those who see something remarkable about the poems. In fact, the work of Ern Malley inspired postmodern poetry overseas, particularly in America where the context of the hoax was easier to disassociate from the work itself. The conservative poets McAuley and Stewart accidentally wrote a pivotal piece of experimental poetry and helped inspire poets and painters for years to come.
Sidney Nolan cited the Ern Malley hoax as the inspiration for his Ned Kelly paintings… see what I did there.
Here is a talk about why we shouldn’t let the story of Ern Malley die.
For this episode, I talked to Erin who is the host of SubverCity Transmit and voice actor on No Sleep Podcast and Congeria Podcast. She also runs an awesome, spooky online store called Never Not Clever. So I’m incredibly grateful to Erin for making the time to talk to us.
The film we are chatting about is Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) also known as Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Erin knows so much more about the movie than I could possibly hope to learn and among the many insights she has to give, she touches on the influence of Winona Ryder in the production, the Academy Award-winning costume design by Eiko Ishioka and the very deliberately rudimentary special effect that can be such an obstacle to new audiences discovering and engaging with the film.
Other subjects we touched upon include:
Lord Byron, because he always pops up
The Symbolist Movement
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
The 1991 movie Hook
and armadillos… because I just cannot get over this
The Universal Studios Monsters and their entourage have had an indelible effect on our understanding of classic gothic texts like Frankenstein and Dracula. The differences between Frankenstein 1931 and the original text are too numerous to name… believe me, we tried. The essence of these stories can be completely changed and become a caricature of their former nuanced selves. We’re going to have a crack at examining most of these movies and the texts that they draw inspiration from (I should hesitate from calling most of these films adaptions because it is very often just the very bare monstrosity that is translated to screen)
Here are some of the characters of the Universal Monsters stable that we are planning to have a look at on The FrankenPod in the future, or maybe have already…..
Universal Monsters and Associated Characters
Frankensteins Creature in his Universal Studios form as Frankenstein’s Monster
Played By Boris Karloff in:
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Played By Lon Chaney Jr. in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
Played By Bela Lugosi in Frankenstein Vs. The Wolf Man (1943)
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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 email@example.com)
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.
Daughter of Percy and Mary
Born in 1815, died at 13 days old
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
“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
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.
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.
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?”
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.