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.

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.

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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.

 

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”

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.

Where the Hell are We Going?

New-Mind-Map (1)

Whilst I know that I am largely doing this for my own benefit as our listenership is far from large I want to plot our meandering, rambling and somewhat overgrown path through the gothic, mystery and noir genres.

At this stage, there will be a new book/movie comparison with both Brent and I (Morgan) on the 13th of each month. Every Saturday that I can I will release a new mini (or not so mini) episode. These extra episodes offer extra information on the texts we are discussing and other topics that relate to Frankenstein and the Gothic genre.

At the moment I’m busy writing and recording the last of our Oscar Wilde episodes for the time being. Oscar Wilde has a unique place in the Gothic canon that we will probably revisit, but I think there are about 4-5 episodes in total featuring Mr. Wilde in this chunk of releases, with our second proper episode Decorative Sex 🌺 – The Picture of Dorian Gray due for release on the 13th of February. Once those are done our major focus will turn to more bloodthirsty creatures.

Our Frankenstein episodes are far from done. They will be peppered throughout the run of the podcast through perpetuity. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say the final word on Frankenstein, but I promise I’ll try to keep the additional episodes fresh and relevant.

As for our brief foray into true crime with The Body Snatchers, there will be a couple of crime and history related podcasts, but they will usually be collaborations and they will also be linked to a Gothic, mystery of noir text.

At the moment we are firmly entrenched in the 19th century legacy in the Gothic canon. We’ll probably be in this territory for a while, however, some of this may link directly with contemporary Gothic fiction. We want to explore a few more creatures of the monstrous kind before we delve into the world of the genius detective and the hostile city.

I’m banking up readings of gothic short stories as my life is going to get very busy again as I go back to uni. Hopefully, my readings aren’t too awful.

We’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with some lovely people and podcasts. At this stage, there are 3 released collaborations:

Nick and Vince’s Podcast – Frankenstein Part 1 with Morgan from The FrankenPod

Cult of Domesticity – FrankenCult; Mary Anne Cotton with Morgan from The FrankenPod

The FrankenPod – The Body Snatchers – It’s a Cult of Domesticity guest minisode feat Gallus Girls and Wayward Women

There are some other collaborations in the pipeline and hopefully many more to come. Please send me an email thefrankenpod@gmail.com if you want to collaborate in some way.

The Body Snatchers

We try to trace a line from a from our topic to Frankenstein and Gothic literature. This week it’s pretty simple. The gothic preoccupation with death and confronting the gruesome fate of the body after death is explored in a wide variety of texts vampire and zombie fiction explores ideas of the undead, corpses that come back to prey on the living and ghosts and spectres present a more ethereal threat which occurs when the soul or spirit is separated from the physical body at death. Relating our topic to Frankenstein is even simpler; How did Frankenstein get his corpses?

We’re going to talk about body snatchers, grave robbers and the Resurrectionists today. This post will have information from my research, for Courtney’s research I would highly recommend listening to the episode.

Courtney hosts a podcast with her best friend Ashley called The Cult of Domesticity. They explore intriguing, disturbing and entertaining stories of true crime, disaster and history.

Body Snatchers – A 19th-century Origin Story

In the early 1800s, surgery and anatomical study were flourishing. Hundreds of young doctors studied diligently in medical schools, and many I dare say substantially less diligently. Theoretical knowledge of what squidgy bit did what and which bits to cut was all well and good, but what they really `needed to hone their skills was an actual human body to dissect.

Today cadavers are often donors who give their bodies to science. But the people Regency and Victorian England were quite a bit more religious and superstitious. Donations were not forthcoming.

The only legitimate source of cadavers was from the gallows. Criminals sentenced to death would be sent to medical schools as subjects.

This had some drawbacks. For a start, all of the subjects died from the same cause. Second, the bodies had to be dissected very quickly as preservation techniques were pretty much non-existent. Third this influx of cadavers was not nearly enough to keep all the schools supplied.

As tends to happen when something is in high demand and heavily regulated, a black market sprung up to fill the need. Grave Robbers, Body Snatchers, The Resurrectionists, whatever you call them, they began making a tidy profit from digging up fresh graves and selling the cadavers to medical institutions and schools.

The need for fresh cadavers meant that thieves would often hover just out of sight while the funeral was still in progress.

Grieving families started alarming their loved one’s graves, or keeping vigil until the cadaver was useless to the body snatchers.

In summer medical schools undertook fewer dissections because the heat made it harder to store bodies. A fresh cadaver could fetch 8 pounds. In winter the schools conducted way more dissections so demand was higher and you could get 10 pounds a corpse. That is about one thousand  American dollars and one thousand and two hundred  Australian dollars at the time of recording.

But Robbing Graves was becoming a high-risk venture, and before long people started resorting to other means for obtaining a fresh corpse.

In England The anatomist William Harvey who was famous for discovering the circulatory system dissected his father and sister after their death. The London Burkers killed three boys and attempted to sell them to an anatomist who blew the whistle on them. At least one of the trio claimed to have robbed between 500- 1000 graves.

And in Edinburgh Scotland Burke and Hare had a system.

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William Burke

Scotland’s Fresh Cadaver Delivery Service

It all started in 1827 when a lodger called Donald died in the boarding house Hare ran. Having heard there was money to be made in selling fresh corpses they brought the guy from upstairs to a guy called Doctor Robert Knox who needed a supply of bodies for his anatomy lectures. Hare rationalized this by reminding himself and Burke that Donald owed him four pounds in unpaid rent.

Knox paid them seven pounds and 10 shillings. This was no small amount. And bolstered by the windfall they went back to their jobs.

When another lodger called Joseph contracted some sort of fever Hare became concerned she might deter lodgers.

So he called over his mate burke and they suffocated him with a pillow and sold his body to Knox.

The next victim is an unnamed Englishman selling tinder and matches who fell ill with jaundice while staying at the boarding house.

They developed a new method that they would use for most of the subsequent victims. Hare smothered the man’s face with his hand and Burke lay on top of him to prevent him from moving and flailing around noisily. Again Hare said he did it, for the good of this business…. Because you know the non-contagious condition of jaundice might scare away customers. In no way was it motivated by the 10 pounds they got for from Knox.

Abigail Simpson possibly next, accounts differ. She was a pensioner, who also sold salt and was travelling from the village of Gilmerton. They got her drunk and shoved her in a tea chest and sold her to Knox.

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William Hare

Maybe a month later Hare’s wife lured in an old lady and got her so drunk she passed out, Hare then covered her mouth and nose with a mattress cover and left her to slowly suffocate.  Again Knox took the body, no questions asked.

 

It was then Burke’s turn to lure Janet Brown and Mary Paterson with alcohol. They went on a bender together, eventually ending up at Burke’s brother’s house. His Brother went to work and Mary Paterson passed out. That left Janet Brown and Burke up talking when Burke’s girlfriend Helen McDougal burst in accusing Burke of cheating on her. Both women left, angry with Burke leaving Mary Paterson passed out. Alone.

Her friend Janet would later be told she ran off to Glasgow with a salesman.

Burke rushed out and grabbed his buddy, Hare. They went back to the house, Mary was still asleep. They suffocated her, and shoved her in the same tea chest as Abigail Simpson, selling her to Knox and keeping her petticoats for Helen,  Burke’s girlfriend.

Knox was delighted as the corpse was still warm.

People were going missing, and their relatives began to look for them. Mrs Haldane, who was smothered in an intoxicated slumber, had a daughter possibly called Peggy who came looking for her.

Burke listened to her story and they got talking., talking turned to drinking. Burke killed her without assistance for the first time, then shoved her in the tea chest and collected his 8 pounds.

There are 16 murders in total to get through. Including a range of unnamed intoxicated lodgers, a homeless salvager called Effy and even a visiting relative of Helen’s called Ann.

The tea chest got a lot of use and all the while Dr. Knox is not bothered by any of this.

At this point, Hare’s wife Margaret Hare suggests to her husband  that they should kill Helen because she was “Scotch”. The Hares and Burke were Irish. Thankfully he refused.

Their second last victim was unfortunately known as Daft Jimmy. Daft Jimmy preferred snuff to alcohol. So their usual trick just didn’t work. He fought back. But the murderers prevailed.

However, Daft Jimmy was a  familiar face on the streets of London, and Knox’s students recognised him at the initial inspection. So Knox presented Jimmy’s cadaver headless and without feet.

Other lodgers made the final murder very difficult for Burke and Hare.

The murder of Michelle Doherty was supposed to take place at the Broggan boarding house. Trusting a fellow person from Ireland she drank with the Hares. Everything went wrong. Fellow lodgers, Ann and James Gray, were so obstructive that they paid for them to stay at Hare’s lodging house. The Gray’s were witnesses to the drinking party and the next morning they came back and discovered the body in a pile of straw.

The police were called.

The two were arrested.

1920px-Execution_of_BurkeHare turned state’s witness and after the trial, he disappeared into the night. Margaret also turns states evidence

Helen and Margaret upon their separate releases were chased by mobs… I cannot believe Margaret and William Hare got off pretty much scot-free3.

Knox the doctor who …totally knew what was going on was found entirely without fault which was crazy, and that was because Burke said Knox knew nothing about it.

“docter Knox never incoreged him neither taught or incoregd him to murder any person”.

William Burke was found guilty sentenced to death and was hanged on the 28th of January 1829 in front of a crowd of over 20,000 people.

His body was sent for public dissection and students fought for tickets.

Professor Monro lead the dissection and dramatically dipped a quill in Burke’s blood

and wrote “This is written with the blood of Wm Burke, who was hanged at Edinburgh. This blood was taken from his head”

170px-William_Burke_s_skeleton
William Burke’s Skeleton

His death mask and a book supposedly bound with HIS TANNED SKIN are on display in the Surgeon’s Hall museum…

 

His skeleton on display at Edinburgh Medical School.

So that’s the story of William Burke and William Hare.

Up the close and doon the stair,
But and ben’ wi’ Burke and Hare.
Burke’s the butcher, Hare’s the thief,
Knox the boy that buys the beef.

— 19th century Edinburgh rhyme

Thank you to Courtney from Cult of Domesticity for joining me and contributing so much to the conversation!

And another huge thank you to Tom of Gallus Girls and Wayward Women for reading the Burke and Hare poem.

A Quick Word with Mr Wilde

The PREFACE

The artist is the creator of beautiful things. 

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.

The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.

Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.

They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.

Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.

No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.

No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable

mannerism of style.

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the type.

All art is at once surface and symbol.

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.

When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.

Oscar Wilde.

 

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas
Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas By Apollomelos~commonswiki – http://www.web.apc.org/~jharnick/cemetary.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64045

This gorgeous epigraph at the beginning of The Picture of Dorian Gray might be my favourite part of the whole book. It performs the same function as the modern day disclaimer that we are all so familiar with. This is Wilde getting in the first and hopefully the last word in a hypothetical debate with his contemporary literary critics. Wilde’s work was not by any means universally popular. In fact, there were several critics who took particular delight in eviscerating his works. The mere cheek and eloquence of this epigraph make it one of the most endearing defences of aestheticism in literary history.

Wilde today is acknowledged as being one of the most influential writers of the aestheticism movement that advocated art for art’s sake. Art that does not provide us with commentary or allegory, art that is just beautiful and enjoyable.

This epigraph dares critics to find fault with the narrative that follows, because if they do they will be guilty of the flaws they see in the text.

In summary, fuck you. It’s art and if you don’t like it then that’s your problem.

Calling literary criticism autobiography certainly has its merits for there are as many readings of a text as there a readers. We, as readers, bring the full scope of our life experience along for the ride when we read a book.

A small child can read a Disneyified version of Cinderella in a very different way to an adult.

The small child sees a lady who is sad and lonely, who gets to go to a party, and, through a series of intervening events isn’t lonely or sad anymore.

As we grow up our understanding of the book changes, it becomes more complex and potentially, as in my case, less uplifting and more problematic. And very discriminatory against people with large feet.

So too does our understanding of more complex gothic stories like the tale of Dorian Gray.

There is no one right way to understand The Picture of Dorian Gray.

 

And now it is confession time…

This is a poorly worded epigraph or preface to a conversation I would like to have in the future, a conversation that Wilde may have hated.

Can The Picture of Dorian Gray be read as an allegorical cautionary tale?

A tale about the hubris of man wanting to interfere with nature?

A story about the creation of a monster?

Can we compare The Picture of Dorian Gray to Frankenstein?

 

References:

The Picture of Dorian Gray on Project Gutenburg

Paradise Lost in The Poetical Works of John Milton on Project Gutenburg

 

 

Pottery and Scuplture with Prometheus 

This is the accompanying article for another one of those solo FrankenPod’s that I do to fill the gaping void in the main episodes. In this, we continue an exploration of Mary Shelley’s Gothic Masterpiece, Frankenstein or the Modern Day Prometheus.

Why Prometheus?

In this episode, I am going to introduce the myth of Prometheus as it is so critical to Frankenstein or the modern day Prometheus by Mary Shelley. Many of you who are familiar with the myth may have found it the same way as I did in those very dense omnibuses for children that retold stories of myth and legend. In the spirit of childlike wonder and sheer bald-faced laziness, I was going to retell the story of Prometheus the same way I first read it, in a 1920s children’s adaption very similar to the kind I used to read at my Nanna and Grandpa’s house when I was a kid. But I hadn’t anticipated how woefully inaccurate this retelling would be. So instead I’m going to attempt to break the myth down myself. Please bear in mind I’m no Jason from The Myths and Legends Podcast so this could be pretty rough going.

Also, I opted for modern rather than Ancient history in high school so I could tell you about the role of propaganda in world war 2… but I had to double check whether Zeus or Jupiter was the Greek one.

Like I said this could be rough.


Post-Olympian-Titan Kerfuffle Landscape

The creation of the universe had been rough and the war between the Olympian gods and the Titans had been a pretty messy affair resulting in the Titans being imprisoned on Tartarus.

Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus were two Titans who had been spared imprisonment as they did not get involved in the war. In fact, later versions of the myth have Prometheus engaged in a kind of espionage against the Titans, securing Zeus’s victory.

Zeus was an arsehole. A horny, narcissistic arsehole, who rapes women and other female creatures throughout Greek mythology. When it comes to Greek mythology he is the worst. But he was also the King of the Gods so everyone was supposed to head his every whim. 


It’s Good to Have a Hobby
Prometheus Carrying Fire by Jan Caussiers

Prometheus may have done Zeus a solid but he was far from being just another Olympian servant towing the line of the Gods. Prometheus was a Titan. And he had a project. Pottery. Well kind of. Prometheus is credited with fashioning mankind out of clay. Some myths say it was him, some say it was a collaborative effort between the Gods.

Whoever made humankind there they stood. And Prometheus and Epimetheus set about attributing evolutionary edges to the animals of the earth. Leopards were given speed, tortoises were given shells and if the Greeks had ever seen a Platypus they would have attributed their poisonous barbs as a gift of Epimetheus and Prometheus. But when it came to mankind there was nothing left. Prometheus was sure that without a gift mankind would be eaten the first time they strayed too close to the forest or went for an ill-advised paddle in the shark and jellyfish infested water.

So Prometheus fashioned himself a torch or picked a stalk of fennel (sources vary) and stole fire from Zeus’s lightning. He gave fire to mankind and viola instant civilization. Zeus WAS NOT HAPPY. Fire was for the gods, not Prometheus’s night school pottery project. He was pissed. But not as pissed as he would be when Prometheus told mankind to stop giving the best meat and crops they had as a sacrifice to the gods.

Prometheus was like “guys you are getting a little carried away. Giving thanks to the gods is great but uh, not dying of starvation is better.”

And they took Prometheus’s advice and offered up offal wrapped in something more appetizing to trick the gods.


You Mad Bro?

In an act of extreme overreaction, Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock and gave him a liver that would continually replenish, so that every day, for eternity a vulture could come and feast on the liver. Inflicting tremendous pain on the titan that he would have to bear as punishment. All for helping humans lead a less shitty existence.

But Zeus wasn’t done

He then decided that two can play at this pottery game and decides to create a woman, the idea being she would ruin everything. Yes, Zeus is the definition of the fucking Patriarchy. Anyway, this lady he fashioned from the earth was called Pandora. It’s pretty widely thought that she was an unwitting participant in Zeus’s shitty plan.

Zeus in the grand tradition of treating women as property gives Pandora to Epimetheus, Prometheus’s brother as a bride.

Epimetheus seems to be more than fine with this and nowhere near as suspicious of Zeus as he should be. Because as I said. Zeus is the worst.

Pandora didn’t really have any belongings with her when she arrived at Epimetheus’s place. Except for this inconspicuous jar that she is told not to open. And like a button that says do not push or a piece of fruit that a god says do not eat, temptation eventually gets the better of her and she opens the jar. Out of the jar explodes all the sorrows of the world, that mysteriously, had not existed until this point. And after all those misfortunes floated away to plague mankind, all that was left in the jar to console mankind was Hope.


Linking Prometheus to Victor

And that is very basically the story of Prometheus. He may or may not get rescued by Hercules or reconcile with Zeus later but that is not particularly important to the story.

What is important is that both Prometheus and Victor Frankenstein are architects of creation that results in a creature that is an affront to one deity or another.

Both creature and creator suffer.

Although I would argue that Prometheus is far more compassionate towards mankind than Victor is towards his creature. But I suppose Prometheus was a Titan and Victor was just a mortal human Doctor.

What I find particularly interesting is that Mary Shelley has used a story in which the god in question is entirely unsympathetic and entirely culpable in the suffering of the creature and its creator. Interesting when we consider that Mary’s partner Percy Shelley was kicked out of at least one university for highly controversial atheist beliefs, beliefs which were antithetical to respectable English society at the time, but was an exciting point of discussion in the literary circles that both Mary and Percy ran in.

Hopefully next week we will release a little something about Mary Shelley.

 

You can find Prometheus Bound on Project Gutenberg

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