What we do in the Shadows with Meg from Indoorswomen

This episode I’m joined by Meg from the fabulous pop-culture podcast Indoorswomen. We talked about the 2014 vampire spoof What we do in the Shadows. I love this movie and Meg took part in the Kickstarter to get a US theatrical release of this distinctly New Zealand gothic parody. We completely spoil this movie so if you haven’t seen it before and you plan on watching it, watch it before you listen.

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Every few years a secret society in New Zealand gathers for a special event: The Unholy Masquerade.

In the months leading up to the ball a documentary crew was granted full access to a small group of this society.

Each crew member wore a crucifix and was granted protection by the subjects of the film.

References

The Conversation Review: http://theconversation.com/what-we-do-in-the-shadows-the-nz-gothic-with-sharp-comic-chops-30764

Some History of Gothic Parody: http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198119920.001.0001/acprof-9780198119920-chapter-5

 

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#romanticism – Romanticism and Social Media

John Keats was a brilliant poet and a darling of the Romantic age and whilst his legacy has been somewhat eclipsed by the formidable shadow of Lord Byron, many snippets from his works have slipped into common usage. For example “A thing of beauty is a joy forever’, that was his, it’s from a poem called Endymion. I’m not sure how many people are aware of its origin, I certainly wasn’t until I stumbled across the poem in a collection in my high school library.

 

Today I follow The Keats Letters Project, The Keats Shelley Society and The Keats Foundation on Twitter and daily, depending on the congestion of my feed, I often get a random daily dose of Keats.

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Image: Kate Ter Haar CC BY 2.0

In this post, I’m going to focus on the works of the Romantics and the place they have posthumously found within social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. The titular ‘#romanticism’ will immediately bring up results for an ocean of tweets of the work of the great romantic painters, including the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (pictured) generally tweeted by accounts that identify as the artist’s name such as John Everitt Millais @artistmillais.

 

Rebellious and subversive poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge & Percy Bysshe Shelley never lived to see their writing form become old hat. There was no possibility that they could comprehend moving from romanticism to modernism, modernism to postmodernism and so on. The likes of Shelley, Byron and Keats have drifted in and out of favour and in this age of social media we might expect that these tired authors might be firmly relegated to history. But then came social media and literature nerds like myself and countless others are consistently brushing off the metaphorical dusty pages, canvasses and plates to not only digitise but memorialise and adapt pieces of the Romantic movement. Below is one of my tweets using the #romaniticism hashtag to share an edited image from a literary annual featuring works of Romanticism for young ladies to promote my podcast that talks about a work of Romanticism by Mary Shelley, one of the great authors of the Romantic movement. And that my friend is convergence.

Vast quantities of books from the Romantic period have been digitised by libraries and archives, they have been transcribed by volunteers at Project Gutenberg and read by volunteers at Librivox. That information or the books they are derived from is then used by others to write blogs, record Youtube videos, make podcasts and create those very pretty and ambiguous inspirational quotes.

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Now it’s your turn… by Michael Coghlan by CC by 2.0

All or most of these creations are shared on social media. But none of this happens without the human desire to make mediums collide and take their experience of a text into a different realm. These sharable, likeable and Tweetable formats that we squeeze these often weighty, sometimes iconic texts and images may have the effect of diminishing the work, but it can also have the effect of adding to rather than subtracting from the narrative of the artefact; that is it can make a static piece of art into something that living, morphing and consistently reimagined. Ross & Sayers (2014) highlight the way that modernist texts can become alive through social media and other internet-mediated discourse and a similar argument could be applied to the preceding Romantic movement.

 

As Wright suggests in ‘Battle of the Books’ (2009) this new digitisation of literature means that ‘the book is becoming a fluid entity that can flow into a number of vessels’ and the same is true of poetry and art. The appeal of these particular works of the Romantic period is surely due in no small measure to their status in the public domain, leaving these iconic works that helped pave the way for western cultural heritage as we know it freely available for anyone to read, dissect and reimagine.

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Ebook by Daniel Sancho by CC by 2.0

As Wright suggests in ‘Battle of the Books’ (2009) this new digitisation of literature means that ‘the book is becoming a fluid entity that can flow into a number of vessels’ and the same is true of poetry and art. The appeal of these particular works of the Romantic period is surely due in no small measure to their status in the public domain, leaving these iconic works that helped pave the way for western cultural heritage as we know it freely available for anyone to read, dissect and reimagine.

Listen to a quick podcast on Romantic Gothic literature, impermanence and Percy Bysshe Shelley

References

Images

  • “Portrait of John Keats” by Joseph Severn, 1821, Retrieved from the National Portrait Gallery.
  • “Laptop” by Bonzo, Open Clip Art under CC BY 1.0.
  • “Joan of Arc” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1882, Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.
  • “Now it’s your turn…” by Michael Coghlan under CC BY 2.0, Flickr.
  • “Beauty is truth, truth beauty; that is all ye know on earth and all ye need know. – John Keats” by Kate Ter Haar is licensed under CC BY 2.0,
  • “ebook” by Daniel Sancho is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  • The “Ozymandias Collossus”, Ramesseum, Luxor, Egypt by Charlie Phillips is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Music

  • Evermore by Kai Engel is licensed under an Attribution License 3.0 License.
  • Kelli’s Number by U.S. Army Blues is licensed under a Public Domain 1.0 License.

The Keepsake, Mary Shelley and Eboli

Listen to The Keepsake

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In this episode of The FrankenPod, we talk a little bit about one of Mary Shelley’s works written for the literary annual The Keepsake. We already covered the ‘Mortal Immortal’ and Shelley published 7 or 8 stories in The Keepsake.

The 1828 edition of The Keepsake

The Keepsake was produced with a particular audience in mind, the relatively new reading demographic or young women. The increased literacy of women in the 19th century, despite the fact that their wandering wombs might be affected by scandalous novels and stories.

But basically, it was still considered relatively dangerous to be exposing women to literature, particularly literature that was scandalous, scary or not completely pious and religious.

Basically historically society has had a pretty dim view of educating women and allowing them to read. Because god knows what they might do if they gained an alternate world view from the ones prescribed by their husbands, fathers and brothers.

Back to keepsake. Because it was aimed at young women it was bound in red dress silk and had lots of pictures.

It was published between 1828, so 10 years after Frankenstein, until 1857, so 10 years after Sweeney Todd on The FrankenPod timeline

The publication was founded by Charles Heath who was actually an engraver, so those amazing pictures?

 

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It took some work but he was able to get Hurst, Chance, & Co to publish the first volume in 1828. It was edited by William Ainsworth who created Dick Turpin the highwayman and very unhelpfully does not list the authors of the stories and poems. We do know that one of the contributions was made by Percy Shelley, William Ainsworth and Felicia Heman who wrote the poem ‘Casablanca’ which starts

The boy stood on the burning deck,

Whence all but he had fled;

The flame that lit the battle’s wreck,

Shone round him o’er the dead.

Which is this gut punch of a poem about a kid who dies on a burning ship, but that I encountered as a child by my eternally classy father teaching me this version:

The boy stood on the burning deck

Picking his nose like mad,

Rolling it into little balls

And throwing them at his dad.

Anyway there a good 10 or twenty stories and poems in the 1828 The Keepsake that don’t have clear authorship which is a shame. The engravings, however, are all attributed, mostly to Charles Heath.

The Percy Shelley contribution was published posthumously presumably by Mary Shelley, he had drowned 6 years previously.

We do have the authors for the second edition in 1829.

They included Sir Walter Scott, Coleridge who wrote my favourite piece of Albatross inspired literature this is the last bit from Part 1 of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

‘God save thee, ancient Mariner!

From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—

Why look’st thou so?’—With my cross-bow

I shot the ALBATROSS.

But he hadn’t written that yet, that was 5 years away.

Other attributed authors included Felicia Hemon (Listed as Mrs Hemon) Wordsworth, Southey, so some pretty big names.

The 1829 edition also brings us the first 2 contributions by Mary Shelley – Ferdinando Eboli (pronunciation?) and The Sisters of Albano

There is much more information on Ferdinando Eboli.

It follows the story of Count Ferdinando Eboli who is saying farewell to his loved ones before leaving for the Napoleonic Wars.

At this point, I should probably tell you that the publication The Keepsake was said to showcase second-rate fiction from first-rate authors…

Reviews can be nasty.

The Ballad of Ern Malley

New Episode of The FrankenPod

I’ve never felt more Like we need a prepared statement. We have seen the trailer for Mary Shelley! Thank you so much to everyone who emailed and a special thank you to Nick of Nick and Vince’s podcast on Twitter, I love that I’ve been fan girl enough about Frankenstein that people saw the movie come out and though, shit I wonder if The Frankenpod has seen this. I’ll be honest I’ve been nervous about the theatre release of this one since I heard about it being screened at the Toronto Film Festival last year.

I’ll be honest I saw some things included that made me happy, but a few that really made me concerned that I may not like this film. I’ve also seen some interviews that lead me to believe that there was a very passionate Mary Shelley enthusiast in Haifaa Al-Mansour and I looked up the pronunciation but I bet I’ve botched it anyway and that is entirely on me.

Early reviews do not seem to be favourable, and they do seem to have gone for a sensationalised approach, but at least it seems to be intended as a feminist reading of the events so even if it’s a bit outlandish, there might be some value to it. That being said there seem to be no definitive dates for an Australian release so if anyone gets to see it in late May in the U.S. and June in the U.K. you must tell me what it is like!

This actually ties in quite nicely with the story I’m going to tell you tonight actually, sort of…

This time we are going back to our origins, both the podcasts and my own with My Life as A Fake by Peter Carey an entry into the Australian gothic literary canon.

I was obsessed with a Bushranger, other countries read horse stealing, bank robbing outlaw type called Ned Kelly at about the age of 10 or twelve. During this time I read every book on the Kelly gang I could get my hands on, except one. There was one book that I was warned about, a book never to read, a book that crossed the line… IT EMBELLISHED THE FACTS. It is impossible to convey exactly how repulsive that book was to me as a result, creative nonfiction and historical fiction are two of my great genre loves, but back then I viewed the whole matter as a betrayal.

That book was Peter Carey’s True Story of the Kelly Gang. I still haven’t read it, I kind of still fear that I might turn to dust or explode if I tried.

A little more recently I was introduced to the novel discussed today, My Life as a fake. Still incensed by the horror of his Kelly gang book I assumed it was an autobiography. I am not joking.

I was glad he was admitting to his transgressions.

Then I found out it took inspiration from both Frankenstein and one of my favourite literary scandals, yes I have a favourite literary scandal (Welcome to The Frankenpod) the publishing of the posthumous works of Ern Malley

To explain the book in any real way you need to know about Ern Malley

And to tell the tale of Ern Malley you need to know about Angry Penguins

Angry Penguins was an artsy experimental Avante Garde literary publication started by Max Harris in 1940 in Adelaide Australia. He was just 18. The magazine flourished and took submissions, art, prose and poetry.  The publication had been going for 4 years when Ethel Malley contacted him via letter, offering up her brother Ernest’s Poetry as a submission to Angry Penguins.

Max Harris was very excited by the works and even commissioned artwork by Sidney Nolan for the front of a special edition featuring Ernest’s poetry.

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The Cover of the Ern Malley Edition of Angry Penguins http://jacketmagazine.com/17/ern-poems.html

Sadly Ernest had passed away in 1943, so he would never see his work published. Would you like to hear a little of one of his poems?

Opening of Perspective Lovesong

It was a night when the planets
Were wreathed in dying garlands.
It seemed we had substituted
The abattoirs for the guillotine.
I shall not forget how you invented
Then, the conventions of faithfulness.

It seemed that we were submerged
Under a reef of coral to tantalize
The wise-grinning shark. The waters flashed
With Blue Angels and Moorish Idols.
And if I mistook your dark hair for weed
Was it not floating upon my tides?

The poetry was fresh, new and exciting and the poet was completely oblivious of his own talent, coming from working-class roots. A real diamond in the rough, and Max Harris was determined to give this underdog poet his moment to shine. Ernest, known as Ern to his friends was born in Liverpool in 1918 and migrated to Sydney Australia with his mother and sister just after his father’s passing in 1920. They lived in Perth until his mother’s death in 1933, after which the Young Ern Malley dropped out of school to become an auto mechanic, then moved to Melbourne at the age of 17. In Melbourne, he held a series of jobs before being diagnosed with Graves disease. He moved back to Sydney to be with his sister and died at the very young age of 25, refusing to get treatment for his illness. It seems that unbeknownst to those closest to him the young man had been writing a compilation of poetry called the Darkening Ecliptic.  His sister had found his poetry in his belongings and sent it to the magazine.

Except she hadn’t.

Ern Malley wasn’t dead,

No one dies of graves disease

In fact he never existed

He was a hoax by two quite conservative modernist poets named Stewart and McAuley who met during military service, they thought that Angry Penguins and Harris published ridiculous rubbish and put together the most ludicrous submission they could come up with.

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And the editor bought it, hook, line and sinker. would you like to hear part of one of the poems?

This is the opening verse of Culture as Exhibit

“Swamps, marshes, borrow-pits and other
Areas of stagnant water serve
As breeding-grounds …” Now
Have I found you, my Anopheles!
(There is a meaning for the circumspect)
Come, we will dance sedate quadrilles,
A pallid polka or a yelping shimmy
Over these sunken sodden breeding-grounds!
We will be wraiths and wreaths of tissue-paper
To clog the Town Council in their plans.
Culture forsooth! Albert, get my gun.

The opening lines are from an Army Directorate on mosquitoes, called Anopheles.

The scandal destroyed the magazine

The press had a field day and then the fuss died down and the incident became a bizarre part of Australian literary history.

Except not quite… in Peter Carey’s version of events, with names and details changed subtly. The hoaxer, by creating this tragic poet out of whole cloth creates an actual person, like Victor Frankenstein creating his creature Christopher Chubb has conjured up Bob McCorkle with words alone, and the man has been rendered flesh and blood by the publisher Jack Slater through the simple act of printing the works, and like any act of tremendous hubris in a gothic setting, disaster ensues.

This is another one of those books that I would loathe ruining the story.

However we do have unnatural creation, a crazed creator, the resurrectionists are name-checked, there is murder, kidnapping and aloof hyper-sexualized poets galore. Sound familiar?

Also, this clearly falls in with our theme the gothic city as the bulk of the early action takes place in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia which is depicted from a self consciously post-imperialist British viewpoint. Kuala Lumpur is depicted as a gritty monsoonal labyrinth that smells mainly of fish and tries to reject the visiting Brits, making them ill. There is racism within these pages, and the brutality of the 1969 race riots, is not long past when the books take place, as our narrator Sarah reflects on as she sees a resident using a machete during harvesting.

Sydney and Melbourne also get the Gothic treatment, the gravesites, bleak working-class residences and bohemian multistory abodes. Not quite as vibrant as Kuala Lumpur, or maybe I just don’t find the description of Melbourne that gothic and outlandish, bare in mind I spent about a third of my goth phase passing the time broke and stupid in the alleyways of Melbourne. The book is rife with depictions of the cultural cringe, from Australian ex-pats wanting to deny their heritage to an artist called Noisette actually being Mary Moriss from Wangaratta. We also get a British character saying that an Australia has a tiny antipodean brain.

There are lots of grim gothic allusions, webs, blood, the man upon the stair, a quote from Milton’s Paradise Lost and the stitching together of the visage of Ern Malley.

There are still those who see something remarkable about the poems. In fact, the work of Ern Malley inspired postmodern poetry overseas, particularly in America where the context of the hoax was easier to disassociate from the work itself. The conservative poets McAuley and Stewart accidentally wrote a pivotal piece of experimental poetry and helped inspire poets and painters for years to come.

Sidney Nolan cited the Ern Malley hoax as the inspiration for his Ned Kelly paintings… see what I did there. 

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Sidney Nolan’s Kelly series can be found here: https://nga.gov.au/Nolan/Index.cfm

Here is a talk about why we shouldn’t let the story of Ern Malley die.

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.

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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.

 

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

Shakespeare’s BF – The Portrait of Mr W.H.

Hello! Here is another article that continues the themes and texts we are exploring in The FrankenPod.

This is an extra something-something to go with our exploration of Oscar Wilde and The Picture of Dorian Gray. It could be easy to dismiss Wilde’s contribution to the gothic literary canon as being somewhat of a one-hit-wonder situation. But there is this little story that as a Shakespeare conspiracy enthusiast (as a spectator, not necessarily as a subscriber to those theories) has a very dear place in my heart. There are a few features of The Portrait of Mr W.H. that will be familiar to readers of the exploits of Mr Gray.

Not many people consider it gothic, and that is fair, I can definitely see that argument. However, The Portrait of Mr W.H. features death, a potential curse, mystery and obsession; certainly traits we would ascribe to the gothic.

So what does this Victorian story have to do with Shakespeare?

Every.God.Damn.Thing.

SonnetsDedication
Dedication of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

There are two people believed to be explicitly addressed in Shakespeare’s Sonnets; “The Fair Youth” and “The Dark Lady”. There are many theories as to the identities of these two, and it is “The Fair Youth” who is the preoccupation of the characters and potentially the author of The Portrait of Mr W.H. The sonnets are dedicated to a Mr W.H. who many theorists believe is “The Fair Youth” of the sonnets

It is widely believed that Shakespeare was either in some kind of romantic relationship with ‘The Fair Youth”, or at the very least infatuated with him. So if you could discover the identity of Mr W.H. it follows that you would have discovered the identity of the elusive writer’s love interest. There are two main theories as to who he might be William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, or Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. However, there are literary theorists who have posited more humble origins for Shakespeare’s muse. A young poor man would not necessarily have had the means to create lasting documentation, such as a grand portrait or written proof of his existence, and therein lies the issue,  you can’t possibly prove that this ignoble young man who might have been the object of the great bard’s affections exists, but you have no way to categorically prove he didn’t.  It seems this meant a great deal to Wilde, or at the very least Lord Alfred Douglas, the latter of whom explicitly stated that he believed the theory that is posited by Wilde in this story. The theory put forward by Wilde in the text, or rather put forward by Cyril Graham, was that Mr W.H. was, in fact, Willie Hughes, a player in Shakespeare’s company. Willie Hughes is thought to have played the young female parts in Shakespeare’s theatre company, or so the theory states.

But did Willie Hughes ever even exist?

The actor’s existence and the nature of belief are at the heart of The Portrait of Mr W.H.

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Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton

Erskine relays the story, very close to his heart about a young man who he was particularly fond of, a young man who is described in similar terms to Dorian Gray. Wilde does love to include very handsome young men in his books, and these young men occasionally descend into madness and despair. Wilde constructs his young men in crisis in much the same way as the spectacle of the damsel in distress is constructed. They are something to behold, Dorian Gray when we first meet him is serving as an artist’s model and the enchanting Cyril Graham is an aspiring actor. They are men being subject to the male gaze in a way that is similar to the righteous Mathilda and virginal Isabella in The Castle of Otranto or Lucy Westenra of Dracula with her multiple suitors and just about every young woman in Lewis’s The Monk.

However, less like the examples from The Monk and Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and more like Stoker’s Lucy Westenra, Dorian’s story takes a sinister turn when a destructive supernatural desire seizes him. Cyril Graham is a little different, he fashions himself as a Christ-like literary figure much like Walpole’s Mathilda.

When we are exploring the similarities between these two stories penned by Oscar Wilde there is also the use of a portrait as representative of a dangerous idea; for Dorian, it is eternal youth and beauty, for Cyril, it is the identity of Mr W.H. Suicide comes up a fair bit, as does the idea of the muse. As Dorian was Basil’s muse, so was Willie Hughes Shakespeare’s muse.

Let’s get into the story… It’s not a long tale and I would recommend reading it in its entirety. It is part of Lord Savile’s Crime and Other Stories.

But quick summary would be something like…

Continue reading Shakespeare’s BF – The Portrait of Mr W.H.