Posts Tagged ‘mary shelley’

Mary Shelley

 

Originally published in my former blog: Gypsyscarlett Weblog on February 9, 2009

In the summer of 1816, a cold spell swept across Europe and North America.   The unusual chill caused snowfall in July and unparalleled thunderstorms.   Pamphlets were passed around predicting the end of the world.

During June of that year,  five of the most famous persons in the world gathered together in a summerhouse in Villa Diodati, on the southern shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland.  “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know”- Lord Byron, Dr. John Polidori, ethereal Percy Shelley, Claire Clairmont (eighteen years-old and pregnant with Byron’s child), and her stepsister, Mary Godwin (mistress to the married Shelley).

Mary Godwin (later Shelley) was born on August 30, 1797 to the radical political philosopher William Godwin, and  founding feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (authoress of “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”).   Mr. Godwin never got over the death of  his wife who died due to complications during childbirth.  He taught young Mary to spell her name by tracing the letters on her mother’s tombstone.

Although both Godwin and Wollstonecraft had been disciples of the free love movement, he was outraged when his own daughter began a love affair with the married poet and refused to speak with her. Mary had spent her childhood haunted by the idea that she’d murdered her mother and  was determined to prove her consequent life worthy.   It had not been easy growing up the child of famed revolutionaries.   Now,  practically disowned by the father she adored, and in the company of  the poetic geniuses, Byron and Percy, Mary felt an even greater need to prove herself.

On June 16, 1816, as candles flickered and lightning illuminated the room, Byron read from Fantasmagoriana,  a volume of German shudder stories translated into French.  Upon finishing, he challenged everyone in the room to write a ghost story.  This was just the incitement Mary needed. She later explained, “I busied myself to think of a story,- a story to rival those which had excited us to this task.  One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror.”

However, she was unable to think of an idea until June 22nd.   On that evening, the conversation turned to, “the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated.”  They discussed the experiments of Erasmus Darwin who had, “preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case, till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion.”

Past midnight, she found herself unable to sleep- imagining a corpse reanimated.  “My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie.”   Her eyes closed, she saw, “a pale student of unhallowed arts….kneeling beside the thing he had put together.  I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion.”

After opening her eyes, she was still not able to dismiss the “hideous phantom”.  She later recalled thinking, “O! if I could only contrive one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night.”  A few moments later she realized,  “I have found it!”

The next morning, she announced having thought of a story.  And along with the dream, she brought with her  a lifetime spent devouring the works of Goethe, Dante, Schiller, Shakespeare, Milton, and Matthew “Monk” Lewis.

In writing, Frankenstein ; or, The Modern  Prometheus, she would further utilize the theory of vitalism which held that a life force separated living things from  non-living things.  Some believed in a connection between vitalism (or elan vital) and electricity.  In 1803,  Giovanni Aldini had claimed to make dead bodies sit up and raise their arms by applying electricity.

Mary began, “It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils.” ( This opening spoken by Dr. Victor Frankenstein would later become the opening of chapter 4 in the 1818 edition and chapter 5 in the revised 1831 version).

Dr. Frankenstein discovers the secrets of creating life.  After gathering human parts from charnel houses, he infuses the spark of life into the being.  However, Frankenstein is immediately horrified at the ugliness of his own creation.    He casts the Monster out into the unfeeling world.  This Monster- sensitive and tender- seeks understanding from Man but is constantly spurned until he chooses suicide. ”I shall die.   I shall no longer feel the agonies which now consume me, or be the prey of feelings unsatisfied, yet unquenched.”

As Mary began penning what at first was only intended to be a short story, she could have no idea that she was creating one of the most enduring characters ever invented.   The  unnamed Monster, rejected by his own father, (as Mary had been rejected by hers) would outlive all of the five men and women gathered together in that villa on the shores of lake Geneva.

*quote by Lady Caroline Lamb- lover to Lord Byron

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She’s still alive!- was my first thought upon seeing poor Brona in bed, coughing up blood. Luckily the dear is comforted by Chandler who comes and lies beside her. After she apologizes for her behavior the night before, he tells her, “I love you with all my heart.” I sat up at this, not only because I rather like the two as a couple, but because it is so rare to hear an actor express that sentiment so earnestly. Ever since the onset of talkies in which audiences giggled upon hearing their dashing heroes confess their love, screenwriters have been hesitant in its use; and when uttered, is usually downplayed or expressed in a joke-y sorta way. (think Hans and Leila in Star Wars) So kudos to Josh Harnett for going for that line with unapologetic feeling and making me believe.

chandler and brona what death
Now let us move on to Miss Ives, who, while reading tarot, once again hears Mina’s voice. As well as some screams and creepy chomping noises. Off she goes to Sir Malcolm to inform him that the cards have revealed something about a ship.

Meanwhile, Dr. Frankenstein is busy studying the bodies and movements of women for Caliban’s bride. His work is interrupted, however by Van Helsing who asks if he has ever heard of vampires. Once the doc answers in the negative, the good Professor pulls out a Penny Dreadful, and explains that while the author got his facts wrong, his story was still true. There is much more that Van Helsing wants to tell Frankenstein, but their conversation is interrupted by Caliban who in a fit of rage, breaks the former’s neck. How dare his father pause in his endeavors! Caliban will have none of that nonsense. He wants his lady and will kill anyone that Frankenstein cares about or who gets in the way of the work. I lost pretty much any sympathy for this “monster” the other week when he declared his bride must be beautiful despite hating how he is treated because of his own looks. Very different than Mary Shelley’s famous creation, this monster really lives up to his name. Frankly, the hypocritical dude is no different than the plethora of people who walk around believing they have suffered some unique breed of suffering which gives them the allowance to hurt and lash out at others.

helsing and frankenstein

Time to move away from that weasel and back to Brona who gives Chandler her St. Jude medal. The Saint of Lost Causes. I feel rather ghoulish that everytime that woman is on screen I muse on how and when she is going to die. Will she become Caliban’s chosen as I first suspected? That notion seems to be losing steam now that Caliban has eyes on a certain actress. Will she become a victim of The Master? Or, if Chandler is a werewolf, as has been hinted, would he turn her to save her life? There’s certainly much foreshadowing when Sir Malcolm later warns Chandler that once put on opiates to dull the pain, Brona “will cease to be who she is”.

Chandler lets that go for the moment as he, Sembene, and Sir Malcolm board a ship which the latter believes may be the one propheseid. Aboard, they search amongst the corpses and scurrying rats. Losing hope, Sir Malcolm declares that his daughter is not there. Cue several long-haired blonde vampiresses awakening. And once that fight is won, the real Mina, in the arms of The Master, reaches out for her father.

penny dreadful mina

While the men are sweating off vamps, Miss Ives is having her fun with Mr. Gray, and in the midst of orgasm hears a voice informing her that He has been waiting…

final thoughts: utterly fantastic epidode. All the scenes are long enough to possess depth, but none so long that any of the storylines drag. The writing was great, most notably the exchanges between Vanessa and Dorian Gray through the hall of portraits into bed, from their kiss to knifeplay.

There are enough questions to keep the viewer excited to turn the page onto the next ep, yet enough is known that one feels grounded.

– I do find it odd that no one at all is suspicious that Mina’s appeareances to Vanessa might be a ploy. I can understand Sir Malcolm and Vanessa being blind to such a thought, but wouldn’t Chandler and Sembene, from their comfortable emotional distance, at least acknowledge that possibility?

– hopes: Mina Harker is such a cool, strong, resourceful heroine in Stoker’s novel, that I certainly hope that her character is given justice here