The League of Incense – The Villa Diodati

byron-greek-dress
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”

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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

IT’S ALIVE! 💥 Frankenstein 

Listen via website or copy this link into your podcast app.

Listen via YouTube Maybe… If I can work out the bugs.

This is our pilot episode in which Brent and I stumble through the disparate plot points of the 1818 gothic novel Frankenstein or the Modern day Prometheus by Mary Shelley and the 1931 movie Frankenstein directed by James Whale and adapted by James L. Balderston.

The differences between the novel and the movie are so numerous that listing them in detail would take forever.

But here are the 10 most notable differences we touched on in our podcast.

10 Differences Between the Book and the Movie of Frankenstein 

Frankenstein_poster_19311. Victor vs. Henry

The 1931 movie changes the name of Doctor Frankenstein from Victor to Henry. Maybe in an effort to make him more appealing? They take other steps to redeem the mad scientist, Fritz, for example, is the manifestation of some of the traits that don’t make the transition from the Victor of the book to Henry of the film. Because he is animating his creature somewhat in the open in the film he doesn’t need to be as duplicitous as he is in the novel. He also doesn’t sully his hands with a lot of the more gruesome aspects of the creation of his creature and is thus, more acceptable, maybe?

He is, of course, still an awful human being.

2. The Creature vs. The Monster

The movie denies the Creature a voice and denies his the ability to be perceived as an innocent. Whilst the Creature of the novel is depicted sympathetically, with the capacity to learn and love, the Monster of the film still shows some of that potential but as he has no voice and basically no time to develop in any way.  The space and time afforded to the creature through his solitude is key to the relatability of Frankenstein’s creation in Shelley’s novel. But James Whale didn’t have the luxury of a whole novel to develop his Monster’s character, but you can see the humanity of Boris Karloff’s bumbling creature in his confusion, fear and desire to understand and explore the world around him.

 

3. The Fritz Situation

Fritz is the vehicle for all that is distasteful in the creation process. His absence in the novel means that Victor is reliant on his own resources. He also has a bitter and morose internal monologue that would have not translated to screen. An assistant allows him to neatly offload scientific exposition, with the added feature that Fritz is a dislikeable low stakes person for the monster’s first kill.

 

4. Bad Brains

The movie gives us the brain mix up as an easy out to the dilemma that Shelley sets up… to what extent does Frankenstein harbour responsibility for his creatures actions, and to what extent are the frightened humans of the story culpable for what the creature becomes? If we are to believe that a criminal brain is only capable of criminality as posited by Doctor Waldman then surely the monster was only capable of dangerous or criminal behaviour. In one neat action, Fritz dropping the brain gives us a scapegoat and an excuse for dispatching a creature that is problematic.

 

5. Elizabeth

Elizabeth still has a limited presence in the film, in the novel she is both an object to be desired and a person Victor can project his mother issues onto. In the movie, however, she is denied even that level of depth. Although Frankenstein does seem to value her more highly than his friend (Victor in the film, Henry in the novel) which is more than I can say for Victor’s respect for her in the novel. Mary Shelley is not unsympathetic to Elizabeth, she advocates for the innocent Justine, despite how deeply affected she is by William’s death. She is loyal, compassionate, intelligent and courageous, all of which seems to be lost on Victor.

 

Whale_and_Karloff
By Universal Studios – http://www.terrortrove.com/happy-birthday-to-james-whale/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42699714
6. The Crimes of the Creature

It takes the creature months to kill someone and a lot of awful things have happened to him, pushing him to the edge. The movie has the Creature killing Fritz within the first day of his existence, then Dr Waldman and then little Maria (the girl whose dad left her by the lake with a cat that is very clearly dead as her companion. There is also a slew of violent attacks including his weird predatory attack on Elizabeth and culminating in his attempt destroy his creator. He is painted as violent, but that violence springs from fear rather than hatred. The novel has the space to complicate and problematize the Creature’s crimes further. His first crime is arson as he attempts to gain some impotent vengeance on the DeLacy family who rejected him, this is the point at which the Creature snaps. From here on he carries out the brutal murder of little William Frankenstein, frames the unfortunate and noble Justine and fixates on bringing about a kind of exquisite suffering on Victor. There is a moment of hope, in which the Creature reaches out to Victor to end his isolation and lessen his suffering. He asks for a companion, why he thinks that introducing another creature to the level of suffering he experiences seems like a reasonable thing to him is one of the most unreasonable and illogical expectations the Creature has. But the destruction of his bride breaks this fraught truce and the Creature then kills those closest to Victor, his best friend Henry and his wife Elizabeth. This is his final crime, although Victor will attempt to blame the death of his father and his own suffering through the subsequent chase on the Creature.

 

7. The Missing Letters

The very effective framing narrative of Walton’s expedition, which sets the tone for the entire novel, is entirely missing from the movie. We come to the movie with only a few minutes of introduction from an announcer giving a monologue or prologue warning of the horror that is about to ensue. This change in framing redirects our attention somewhat away from the ethical dilemma of creation at play and onto the monstrosity of the creature itself. Walton’s doomed expedition primes us for Victor’s obsession, without this framing narrative the focus can be shifted slightly away from the dangerous ambition and self-centred hubris. That is to say that without Walton spend more time beholding the monstrous spectacle of the creature, than the monstrous spectacle of his creator.

 

8. The Outcome

In the movie, the audience can rest safely knowing that the town and the doctor are safe and that he might have learnt his lesson. The creature appears to be dead and everything seems to be tied up in a neat little bow. Shelley, on the other hand, leaves us with a tragic end. Everyone is dead, doomed or miserable. Walton’s men may get out of the icy wastelands alive but that is as close to a happy ending as we get. The creature remains alive but has no desire to stay that way.

 

9. The Swiss Landscape

The Switzerland of the film is villages, lakes and windmills. But the novel is able to give us a more complex look at the Swiss landscapes and their surrounds with the Creature and Victor undertaking vast treks, depicted through sweeping descriptive romantic prose. The Swiss are depicted as a noble society in the novel, but unfortunately, the movie only deals in villager stereotypes and class-based stereotypes.

 

338px-Frankenstein_engraved
By Theodor von Holst – http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/gothicnightmares/rooms/room2_works.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6844740
10. The Moral of the Story

If I was to grossly simplify the message of each text into an easy to digest statement it would probably go thus:

The movie: Creation is dangerous, entities can be born evil and it takes a village and a hero to bring down a monster.

The novel: The cruelty and ambition of man are inherently dangerous and should not be left unchecked.

 

References

Shelley Wollstonecraft, Mary. “Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus.”

Different editions used listed below

  • Project Gutenberg: http://www. gutenberg. org/files/84/84-h/84-h. htm (2008).
  • Norton Critical Edition
  • Audible Audio book narrated by Dan Stevens
  • Gothic Treasury of the Supernatural
Frankenstein (1931), Universal Pictures. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0021884/
Hitchcock, Susan Tyler. Frankenstein: A cultural history. WW Norton & Company, 2007.

And a whole bunch of articles I didn’t write down. I promise I’ll do better

Bats Optional -What is Gothic Literature?

Brent and I have a new audio/podcast project called The FrankenPod.

“A podcast stitched together from the corpses of mystery, noir and gothic literature and cinema”

It’s very early days but we would love for you to give it a listen.

If you have a film or book you love and it fits the criteria we’d love you to contribute.

Listen to the new episode of The FrankenPod HERE

Here is part of the accompanying article for the first episode…

Before our podcast release next week I thought it might be a good idea to have a bit of a chat about Gothic literature and what exactly that entails. I am not assuming that everyone knows or doesn’t know about the gothic genre and this certainly won’t be a deep dive because I am simply not qualified. This is just to define the parameters of the initial genre we will be focusing on with Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

First up we need to acknowledge that the gothic genre is super problematic. There are stories that give a strong voice to people of all shapes, sizes, gender identifications, sexual orientations and nationalities but this progressiveness is a pretty recent development. Gothic literature can be racist, homophobic and is frequently classist and misogynist. Whilst we could dismiss these issues as being products of the time in which they were written I think it is important that we are aware of the problems in the things we love and to acknowledge them. The only way we can move forward is to understand the issues of our past. Frankenstein is classist, misogynistic and racist. It is my favourite novel of all time, but I completely acknowledge it’s flawed.

Let’s get into my barebones overview of Gothic Literature….

 For more go to Bats Optional – What is Gothic Literature?

Bats Optional – What is Gothic Literature?

Disclaimer:

I am not an expert and feel free to correct me (nicely) on any of this. The podcast is an evolving beast and I will happily revisit any of the ideas and texts we look at.

This is taken from this week’s episode of The FrankenPod.

Listen via youtube 



Before our podcast release next week I thought it might be a good idea to have a bit of a chat about Gothic literature and what exactly that entails. I am not assuming that everyone knows or doesn’t know about the gothic genre and this certainly won’t be a deep dive because I am simply not qualified. This is just to define the parameters of the initial genre we will be focusing on with Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

First up we need to acknowledge that the gothic genre is super problematic. There are stories that give a strong voice to people of all shapes, sizes, gender identifications, sexual orientations and nationalities but this progressiveness is a pretty recent development. Gothic literature can be racist, homophobic and is frequently classist and misogynist. Whilst we could dismiss these issues as being products of the time in which they were written I think it is important that we are aware of the problems in the things we love and to acknowledge them. The only way we can move forward is to understand the issues of our past. Frankenstein is classist, misogynistic and racist. It is my favourite novel of all time, but I completely acknowledge it’s flawed.  


Let’s get into my barebones overview of Gothic Literature.


Particularly popular in the 18th and 19th century, Gothic literature typically draws on a spectre of evil

Stamps_of_Romania,_2004-044
By Post Of Romania

from the distant past that threatens to reach forward and destroy the present. Bram Stoker creates a particularly threatening creature who oozes ancient evil in Dracula. With vampire myths existing in every culture, some tied to the bible, some tied to ancient Egyptian mythology Bram Stoker had a wealth of ancient evil to draw from. His Count is descended from Attila the Hun and himself is a spectre of ancient or at the very least medieval evil, being virtually immortal. He has been around for centuries, but in Stoker’s narrative, he ventures into Victorian industrialised society to act all creepy around the ladies of London.


The Corruption of the Innocent 

The predatory sexuality of Dracula is one of the most blatant examples of the corruption of the innocent, a trope that is revived again and again. He preys on young vulnerable and virginal women in the same way that monsters of his kind will again and again in the novels we cover. But the innocent does not have to be a young virginal woman. The good Doctor Jekyll is corrupted in The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the innocent Dorian is corrupted by his own vanity, Sir Henry and a supernatural lack of accountability, but in the 18th and 19th centuries, it is usually a girl or a woman who gets shortchanged. Even in contemporary gothic tales, the innocent vs. the beast is trotted out regularly, look at Buffy and Twin Peaks. I promise this will not become a Twin Peaks podcast but that won’t be the last reference to the series.


Locked Doors and Secret Passageways

Often gothic literature features mysterious castles, decrepit houses or monasteries. Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto (1764) is commonly cited as the first gothic novel, which is a whole ridiculous story that we will get to in another episode. The Castle of Otranto has a lot of the features that would come to be prevalent in the gothic novels that would come after it; an old castle, a family curse, the corruption of the innocent, the supernatural and the sublime.

 


The Other Goths

The word Goth does allude to a mysterious Scandinavian people who come into the verifiable historical record suddenly in the first century A.D. and this part of the story I am horrifically underqualified to talk about, even more than everything else I have been talking about. If you know a lot about the Goths, the Visigoths or the Ostrogoths please get in touch. Absolutely willing to revisit this! All I know is that as a teenage goth it was a source of very real and deep disappointment that the goths were not pale skinned eyeliner wearing robed people with black hair lounging about nonchalantly waiting for The Cure to be formed. 


Dramatic Architecture

The Gothic became a pejorative term that was used to dismiss architecture as ugly or barbaric which is a little harsh not to mention more than a touch racist. I also know basically nothing about this aspect of the gothic so again… if you know your way around gothic architecture please get in touch. Gothic literature has a lot more to do with the emergence of the goth subculture as we know it today than the Germanic Goths and gothic architecture.


This architectural notion of the terrible, dramatic and brutal has carried over into the gothic as it pertains to literature. With gothic plots being frequently brutal and dramatic in their content. Gothic literature also blurs the lines between the natural and the supernatural. 


The Indefinable Threat

The gothic does not require a ghost or a ghoul but needs an analogous threat. In fact, some of the most ambiguously supernatural gothic novels are the most troubling. Oscar Wilde’s protagonist does not have to wrestle with a literal physical monster, but with his own bargain with a malevolent force and we never conclusively find out if the governess of Henry James’ Turn of The Screw (1898) is actually experiencing a haunting or a psychotic break.


Popular_Detective_August_1935
By Published by Beacon Magazines, Inc. – Scanned cover of pulp magazine, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9849556

Detective Fiction

Stemming from the romantic supernatural gothic novel is the detective novel which dabbles in the macabre and the mysterious. These stories might start with a supernatural interpretation, as in the Sherlock Holmes novels, and a shown by the genius detective to be wholly natural, however improbable. The blurring of the gothic and the detective novel is particularly prevalent in The Hound of The Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, in which we get an appearance of the moors which feature so heavily in gothic fiction, they are like naturally occurring labyrinthine castles full of mystery and unpleasant surprises.


Gothic Film

The gothic film genre is closely tied to horror as it often features a lot of evil, death and destruction, however, it is also closely tied to the genre of period drama as the movies that draw inspiration from the classic gothic novel often keep their narratives within the same time and space as the original narrative. Most of the films we will focus on will have a Victorian or Vintage flavour, but the neo-gothic and gothic noir film has moved the gothic movie into the city and the modern world so there is a rich vein, no pun intended of material to work with.


So what makes Frankenstein gothic? 

Well aside from the cliché that it happened on a dark and stormy night. Victor Frankenstein is beholden to a deep ancient desire to create life from whole cloth. The Doctor’s drive to emulate god has a lineage tracing back to ancient Greece. Mary Shelley even renders the curse of the doctor explicit in the title of the novel Frankenstein, or the modern-day Prometheus. The Prometheus myth is a huge thing to unpack so I might have to do that another time. The creature of the novel is not born of God, so while he is a creature of science and consequently science fiction he is also a supernatural innocent that seeks to find his way in the world. There is the corruption of the innocent, death and the fall of a great noble family.

So what do you ideally need for a gothic novel or film? Not all novels will have all these but these are the factors to look out for…


Trick_photo,_decapitated_man_with_bloody_knife,_holding_his_head_(2720790706).jpg
By George Eastman House – https://www.flickr.com/photos/george_eastman_house/2720790706/, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53600367

The Gothic Text Wish List

□ Death

□ Mystery

□ A Haunting

□ A Curse

□ A Challenge to the conventional

□ An Artefact imbued with magic or supernatural properties

□ The Corruption of the innocent

□ Creepy architecture

□ Preferably a labyrinth of some kind

□ And an Ancient Evil

*Bats and ambiguous shadows optional


I’ll see you next week with Brent to compare the 1931 movie Frankenstein and the 1818 novel in which we officially apply the concepts of galvanism to the unsuspecting creature that is our podcast. 


How could this possibly go wrong?


You can watch the fall out from this act of hubris in real time @thefrankenpod on twitter and thefrankenpod.wordpress.com has all the resources I was diligent enough to include.


In the meantime hit up Project Gutenberg and Librivox for a free copy of Frankenstein and any other gothic tales in the public domain.


Resources

  • Smith, Andrew. Gothic literature. Edinburgh University Press, 2007.
  • If you want to find books over 100 years old or thereabouts you can probably find it on Gutenberg Project Free Books outside of the Public Domain on Project Gutenberg
  • My copy of many gothic texts discussed are drawn from: A Gothic Treasury of the Supernatural: The Castle of Otranto; Frankenstein: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; The Picture of Dorian Gray; Dracula; The Turn of the Screw” 1981
  • Other research is drawn from the Macquarie University and Jstor
The feature image, which was originally posted to Flickr, was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on 17 August 2008, 12:59 by Yuriybrisk. On that date, it was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the license indicated.

Mary

“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils…” 
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 1816

The young man sat hunched over his work, occasionally lifting his head and darting about the room in a flurry of activity. The workshop had been brightly lit when darkness first fell, but the illumination  of the all but extinguished candles had dwindled and the young doctor was too preoccupied to tend to such tedious practicalities. His project and the focus of his mania lay dormant on the table. Inanimate for the moment, a state of affairs the young man was hoping to rectify. 

There was no divine clap of thunder, no maniacal laugh, no subservient assistant, just a young doctor obsessively and frantically tending to his work, alone. He was about to reach the culmination of his efforts, the proof of concept, a concept so ground-breaking. An act of pure creation, an act that would raise man to the realm of God.

The cold  pallid  eyelids fluttered gently opening for the first time, the pupils shrank, the dead eyes focused sharply in on its surroundings, suddenly the beast realized it’s own consciousness. It’s muscles twitched, his fingers curled, his sutured skin stretched and contorted as he moved. The young doctor had very deftly and brilliantly applied his keen surgical skills to the task but instead of a work of beauty he had made a being so hideous he could not bear to look at it.  The doctor stood aghast, struck with terror, he looked almost as pale as his creature, what had he unleashed?

The beast crawled at first, dragging his semi limp form across the ground, then as he gained awareness of his extremities and their potential he rose and ambled awkwardly towards the doctor, he walked with the uncertainty of a newborn foal, vulnerable and innocent despite his grotesque appearance. Reaching out for his creator, he could not know how vain his search for affection would be. The doctor shrunk away in horror, as his creation opened his wretched mouth and letting out an agonised wail.

She woke with a start, looking about her to be sure that her subconscious had not conjured the monster into being. She saw nothing of the kind, the only spectre to be seen was the very embodiment of self centeredness that was sprawled across the bed. The pretend husband she adored, but whose indifference in the face of her pain was devastating, she sighed, wiping away the few stray tears trickling down her cheek. The night was still in it’s infancy and faced with the grim prospect of spending the hours next to the apathetic form peacefully snoring beside her, she sat up, carefully patting the dresser in search of the candlestick and placing her feet on the gentle ripples of the hardwood floor. The rain continued to beat solidly against the glass panes. Reaching out again she sought out the flimsy, worn matchbox that had travelled to Lake Geneva with them. Striking the match and shielding the flame from any subtle breeze. Armed with the dim glow of the candle she made her way into the hallway and down to the tiny, temporary nursery.

Despite enlisting the help of a local girl she sought to reassure herself of the wellbeing of her little boy who was recovering well despite the unseasonable cold. Like his father the little boy slept peacefully, utterly unaware of her anguish and fear. She lightly placed her hand upon his chest feeling his little chest rise and fall. 

Earlier that week, in the evening, bored and listless from yet another day of dark and idleness, the occupants of the house were surprised when the dashing romantic, inspired by his own genius burst through the door. The excited and smug smirk that played across Byron’s face seemed out of place in the glum tedium that had been the unending sunless summer. He proceeded to enthusiastically read from a book of ghost stories, but his enthusiasm dwindled as he realised that his brilliant idea was falling short of delighting his audience. After blaming his source material he threw down the book and slumped into a chair, raising the attention, momentarily of the lazy hound that had settled at the foot of the chair.

“What a lot of rot! I could write a better ghostly tale than that, hell Polodory here, wet as he is, could do better” 

He gestured to his long suffering doctor, who looked up pitifully from his current occupation, pretending not to be gazing at Mary. She was painfully aware of his attentions, she often shifted awkwardly under the intensity of his gaze, praying that his attentions be drawn elsewhere, perhaps to the neglected note book in his lap that he barely feigned writing in when caught staring by the others. Claire, Mary’s half sister, leant against the mantle, trying vainly to catch the eye of the young Lord who was deliberately avoiding acknowledging her. The dashing and flighty young poet had made the mistake of encouraging her in London and now here she was having attached herself to Mary and Percy in order to get closer to him. Mary had trouble understanding the fuss that was made over Byron; he was a dear friend but only a fool would become romantically entangled with him. Everyone fawned over him, even as she sat next to him, elbow to elbow, Percy was utterly bewitched by his presence. Despite finding her husband’s infatuation with Byron vaguely annoying, the doctor’s attentions unnerving and her half sister’s impositions barely tolerable, she was glad they had come. The grey, ashy summer by the lake was not what she had in mind, but it was better than sitting idle in London, wallowing in her grief.

“We should all write the most ghastly story we can and see whose is best!” proposed Byron, an idea that was met with enthusiasm by more than one of the party, but the prospect filled Mary with dread. The poets were assured success, they always were. Even when they were dissatisfied with their own work and moped around like intolerable children, there was always someone to praise their genius. She had always wrote, how could she not as immersed in literature as she was, but her aspirations were always dragged back to earth by the weighty legacy of her mother and father. 

She sat, distracted, trying desperately to be attentive to the presentations of the others. These were not their best work but it was still far in excess of her own failure to contribute. The mortifying lack of progress in her writing constantly vexed her. 

She shook herself awake again, she still stood by the little bassinet, she must have drifted off. This was familiar to her as she hadn’t experienced a single solid night’s sleep since the loss of her first baby and now she was fearing that little William would not make it through this year without summer. Even her mother managed to deliver a child safely into the world, it killed her, but she did it, and now Mary, the daughter of literary royalty could not nurture a child or write anything more than an extensive collection of love-struck letters. The value placed on her existence by the process of exchanging her mother’s life, who had given so much to the world and meant so much to so many, for her own had placed a great burden on her shoulders, how was she ever going to be able to do something worthy of this exchange?

Even the horrifying man in her dream managed creation, and what hell did he unleash? What hell… what creation… she paused. Struck for a moment by a lingering thought. She became fixed on her purpose. She turned making her way back down the hallway, trying desperately not to let her rapid footsteps betray her excitement, willing the floorboards not to creak and her nightgown not to shuffle.

 Padding down the hallway and then cautiously creeping into the room she headed for the writing desk across from the room where Percy laid. 

Settling down at the slightly wonky Writing desk she decided to try to fill a page, just one page for the story of the doctor and the creature. If it was terrible she could burn it and it would never have to see the light of day, or more importantly the scrutiny of her friends. She did not invest much hope in this endeavour. At least she would have something to show her companions if nothing else. She would at the very least show it to Percy, he was determined to find her genius, he expected great things from her, great lofty things that she felt unable to provide. He was both her harshest critic and greatest advocate. They were allies, they were radicals, swept up in a youthful haze of exuberance and ideology. Death, tragedy and scandal had already marred their imperfect union, but surely the universe would not have more harm to inflict on their little family. She looked back to the paper lying in front of her, dipped her nib in the ink and began industriously fill page after page until the light of dawn creeped the through the half drawn curtains.

The rain pelted down on the window, a window that did not look out over the serenity of Lake Geneva, rather the grim bustle of the London streetscape. The occupants of the lake house had left many years ago, most of them had died not long after that dark, cold year. Even little William had succumbed to his sickly nature. Mary sat quietly eternally grieving her children, husband and friends. She held a scrappy, dishevelled manuscript. Carefully opening the pages she gazed upon the scrawled text, she didn’t read it, she didn’t need to, she knew every word, every letter, every tiny blot of ink. The careworn pages were yellowing and the corners were curled and torn.

A story stitched together, a story with a life all its own.

She had lovingly assembled this book, worked tirelessly and pursued its publication. Her own handwriting lined the pages ranging from frantic to slow and careful. She tenderly touched the words written by another hand, Percy, he had a hand in all her creations, but the he would leave her to face the reality of unleashing them on the world.

Rejected and bewildered the creature roamed the earth purposeless and confused. He did not know what to do with the heavy weight of his existence. He had long since seen the demise of his wretched unfeeling creator, spurred on by causing his destruction he was adrift in the world. Alone. What use was an existence without a purpose? What use was a creature without a peer of any kind? A creature standing on an ending plain of ice. Cold and alone. 



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The Changing Face of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein GEN110

How do changing attitudes towards femininity effect academic readings of “Frankenstein or the Modern Day Prometheus” by Mary Shelley?

When commenting on the gender implications of “Frankenstein” academic thought appears to vary considerably about what, if any, social commentary Mary Shelley was trying to make, and if her links to some of the most notorious and infamous men and women of 18th and 19th century literature had an y bearing on how she presented the gender of the creature, and the creator himself, Victor Frankenstein. Sussman (2004) separates interpretations of this iconic Gothic novella into 3 distinct groups based on the implied perception of Shelley as either; 1) the wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, 2) A mourning mother and finally 3) the daughter of revolutionary writers; William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. As this grouping shows the interpretation of the tale of Victor Frankenstein and the rejection of the monster he created varies according the focus on the role of Shelley as a woman, and our views of her most important social and family function as a feminine being.

The interpretation, which was most common before the arrival of second wave feminism was that Mary, wrote “Frankenstein” with either the aid of, or, in response to, her more famous husband, the romantic poetic, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Societal attitudes to the legitimacy of female writers are scarcely more clearly illustrated than the subsequent negative change of critical thinking when it was revealed that the author of “Frankenstein” was a woman (Gordon 2015). Another clear indicator of the value placed on male creativity and intellectual thought is the reluctance of critics and scholar’s, most notably James Rieger (1982) in his edition of Frankenstein, to accept Mary Shelley’s exclusive right to authorship due to Percy Shelley’s sometimes lengthy input as editor. Whilst the manuscripts do show his annotation to be lengthy, the overwhelming majority of the text is penned by Mary herself, and based on the manuscripts alone there is no clear reason to perceive Percy’s role as anything but editor. The persistence with which questions of authorship resurface perhaps indicates a reluctance to accept a young female author as a credible source of such a story, despite all evidence of her authorship.

Another common way to explain “Frankenstein” as being forged my the merits of man rather than woman is to cast Percy in one of the lead roles, either as the tortured and fickle Doctor, turning away from his creation, or as the horrific creature, constructed by the society he lived in, which turned away in horror from the radical poet who was formed as a reaction to his environment. In this way the focus is shifted from Mary as the author, to Percy as the inspiration, challenging her right to authorship in a more subtle and insidious way (London 1993).

Second wave feminism initially did not do anything to establish the authorship and credit for “Frankenstein” back to Mary, as she was notably absent from the initial attentions of those looking to their literary foremother’s, such as Wolfe did in “A Room of One’s Own” (Sussman 2004).

Sussman (2004) attributes this neglect of Mary Shelley in second wave feminism to the turning away from the role of the mother

"Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie (c. 1797)" by John Opie - National Portrait Gallery: NPG 1237While Commons policy accepts the use of this media, one or more third parties have made copyright claims against Wikimedia Commons in relation to the work from which this is sourced or a purely mechanical reproduction thereof. This may be due to recognition of the "sweat of the brow" doctrine, allowing works to be eligible for protection through skill and labour, and not purely by originality as is the case in the United States (where this website is hosted). These claims may or may not be valid in all jurisdictions.As such, use of this image in the jurisdiction of the claimant or other countries may be regarded as copyright infringement. Please see Commons:When to use the PD-Art tag for more information.See User:Dcoetzee/NPG legal threat for more information.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.English | Español | Français | Magyar | Italiano | Македонски | Türkmençe | +/−. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mary_Wollstonecraft_by_John_Opie_(c._1797).jpg#/media/File:Mary_Wollstonecraft_by_John_Opie_(c._1797).jpg
“Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie (c. 1797)” by John Opie – National Portrait Gallery: NPG 1237

in this stage of feminist theory. Women who embraced their maternity and mother hood were not seen to be following feminist ideals as the two callings, feminism and motherhood were thought to be mutually exclusive. Shelley, whose life was heavily influenced by a maternal legacy and her own anguish and heartache due to the deaths of her children, did not fit the ideals of the second wave feminist movement. Consequently the interpretation of “Frankenstein” as a tale of birth trauma is not one that sits easily with many critics, the creature being a child, and the rejection of that child by it’s mother is not a particularly palatable one and is not widely subscribed to.

The key to understanding this most recent interpretation of “Frankenstein” is to understand the works of both of Shelley’s parents, particularly her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft’s “Vindication of the Rights of Woman” The literary and political legacy that Mary Shelley inherited from having two heavyweights of political literature in the 18th century is something that was neglected to a large extent by those of the first and second school of interpretation of her works. Godwin, her father was a radical figure in political thought and a great inspiration to those romantic poets of whom Mary Shelley herself would become familiar with. The Wollstonecraft legacy was perhaps the most formidable and weighty for Mary Shelley to contend with as not only was her more one of the first published female writers to address the rights of women but she also died from complications relating to her daughter, Mary’s birth. Never having known her mother, as Mary Goodwin, soon to be Mary Shelley began to embark on her adult life the memory of her mother cast a long shadow as is evidenced by her correspondence with both her sisters, Jane and Fanny, and Percy (Gordon 2015).

“The Vindication of the Rights of Women” emphasises Mary Wollstonecraft’s firm belief that until women are given the same education and opportunities to better themselves as men then no scholar can claim to know what they are truly capable of. She asserts that a lack of education and meaningful pursuits is what impedes the reasoning and development of women, and that enforced idleness is the means with which women are subjugated and subdued, making them secondary to men in the eyes of the society of the time. This work was largely a response to political and philosophical literature of the time that denied women a space in the definition of humanity, or “mankind”(Schneir 1972).

When we look at Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” through the lens of her mother’s work and ideology we get a very different reading to those who look at the novella through the lens of Percy Shelley’s influence, or the experience of a mourning mother. We see an independent young woman, struggling to come to terms with mortality, male creation and ambition and the expectations placed on her as her mother’s daughter. It is only through this interpretation that we are able to see Mary’s focus on the plight of unmarried women and their illegitimate children, as was her mother’s situation when she gave birth to her sister Fanny. This interpretation also allows the reader to cast Mary in the role of the creature and her father in the role of Victor Frankenstein. William Godwin’s radical views were an inspiration to Mary, Percy and other’s in the romantic free love movement of the time. But when his daughter put her father’s ideologies into practice and embarked on a relationship with the married Percy, he rejected her, much as the young Doctor Frankenstein rejects the monster created by his own endeavours.

The view a reader or critic takes of the importance or role of Mary Shelley’s femininity as the author of “Frankenstein” has a profound impact on the meaning that can be derived from this story. Viewing it in the shadow of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s influence works to erase her authorship, and whilst viewing the work as a response to maternal grief needs greater exploration as a basis for reading this text, it is certainly reading “Frankenstein” through the lens of Mary Shelley the daughter that provides the greatest insight into the origins and meaning of the tale. This take on the meaning behind one of the great pieces of Gothic literature also opens up the text to multiple interpretations and allows us to explore Mary Shelley the author as an individual, rather than, in an eerie echo of the construction of the creature, as the sum of her functional feminine parts.

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  • Gordon, Charlotte. Romantic Outlaws. New York, NY: Random House, 2015. Print.
  • London, Bette. ‘Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, And The Spectacle Of Masculinity’. PMLA2 (1993): 253. Web.
  • Mellor, Anne Kostelanetz. Mary Shelley, Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. New York: Routledge, 1989. Print.
  • Schneir, Miriam. ‘A Vindication Of The Rights Of Women / Mary Wollstonecraft’. Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings. 1st ed. New York: Random House, 1972. 5-16. Print.
  • Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and James Rieger. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus, The 1818 Text. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. Print.
  • Sussman, Charlotte. “Daughter of the Revolution: Mary Shelley in Our Times.” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies (2004): 158-186.
  • Wollstonecraft, Mary. Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman. [Auckland, N.Z.]: Floating Press, 2010. Print.

 

 

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Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie (c. 1797)” by John OpieNational Portrait Gallery: NPG 1237While Commons policy accepts the use of this media, one or more third parties have made copyright claims against Wikimedia Commons in relation to the work from which this is sourced or a purely mechanical reproduction thereof. This may be due to recognition of the “sweat of the brow” doctrine, allowing works to be eligible for protection through skill and labour, and not purely by originality as is the case in the United States (where this website is hosted). These claims may or may not be valid in all jurisdictions.As such, use of this image in the jurisdiction of the claimant or other countries may be regarded as copyright infringement. Please see Commons:When to use the PD-Art tag for more information.See User:Dcoetzee/NPG legal threat for more information.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.English | Español | Français | Magyar | Italiano | Македонски | Türkmençe | +/−. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Struggling through Mary Shelley’s “Last Man”

Oh Mary Shelley… Why did you think the Last Man was your best work? It’s the slowest moving book I have read in ages.
Raymond is irritating, Idris and Lionel are inaccessible and Perdita just feels like a personification of how Mary Shelley and the other women around her felt, and what they could be reduced to when exposed to the whims of the romantic poets.
As for the hero worship of Percy through Adrian, Mary certainly lays it on pretty thick.
It’s certainly not a bad book, but I’m struggling to see why the author was more proud of it than her other works.
I feel like if I can understand that then the rest of this will be a piece of cake.
If anyone has any clues about how to approach this one I would love to hear from you!

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