Just a Phase – Claire Clairemont

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

Claire Clairmont

Born: 27th April 1798 near Bristol

Died: 19th March 1879 in Florence

Published works: none

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

Claire Clairmont to Jane Williams

 

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

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

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

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

This brings us to Byron.

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

AllegraByron
Allegra Byron

Allegra

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

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

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

The Kidnap Plot

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

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

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

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

She was Claire, and nevertheless, she persisted.

 

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Anarchy in the U.K. – William Godwin

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

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

William Godwin

Born March 3, 1756

Died April 7, 1836

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

William Godwin’s memoir of Mary Wollstonecraft, 1798

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

W. GODWIN.

 

Notable Works Published:

(Complete Bibliography Here)

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

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

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

The Enquirer (1797)

Of Population (1820)

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

 

 

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)

Dwight_Frye
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.

 

Son of Frankenstein (1939)Son_of_Frankenstein_movie_poster.jpg

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.

Sir_John_Betjeman_(1906-1984)
Sir John Betjeman

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

And Buchan has got in it now:

Approval of what is approved of

Is as false as a well-kept vow.

-Sir John Betjeman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading

Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Cult of Domesticity 

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

Gallus Girls and Wayward Women

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

Relic

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

Ouija Broads

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

Never Drink the Bubbly Potion – The Mortal Immortal

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

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

Henry_Cornelius_Agrippa
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.

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