The Devil’s Dictionary

Today we are going to dabble in The Devil’s Dictionary. 

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20180731_220458_0001-1598354645.pngThe first English dictionary is commonly thought to be compiled in 1755 by Dr Samuel Johnson of Blackadder fame. But that’s not really true. There were plenty of dictionaries before him. The most accurate guess at the earliest English language dictionary was one written by Robert Cawdrey in 1604 which was the first to include definitions albeit of only 2 thousand four hundred and 99 words. Put in contrast the Oxford English dictionary today has over 170 thousand words. The key difference between Dr Johnson’s dictionaries and the ones who came before him was the number of definitions and the level organisation.

Johnson dedicated his life to lexicography and died in 1784. 83 years later Ambrose Bierce, a writer of excellent gothic and supernatural short stories embarked on the serialised satirical exploration of the dictionary. Some of these definitions popped up in his weekly columns in ‘Town Crier’ and ‘Prattle’ and also in his personal letters. He wasn’t the first to take on the idea of a satirical dictionary, but Bierce certainly was dedicated to building and collating his own glossary of irreverent definitions.

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce was born June 24th 1842, in an Ohio settlement called Horsecave. One of 13, all beginning with the letter A. Marcus Aurelius Bierce (1799–1876) and Laura Sherwood Bierce Had 13 kids named Abigail, Amelia, Ann, Addison, Aurelius, Augustus, Almeda, Andrew, Albert, and Ambrose… and that’s how you make sure one of your kids is going to write some kind of dictionary. It just so happened that this particular kid was a bit of a smart arse as he grew up.

As a kid, he was a printer’s devil, which is a little guy who mixes ink and generally getting things to the printer as quickly as possible because of those printing presses and typesetting dealies technical term, are massive and complex. He was 15 at this point and the printing operation he worked at was for an abolitionist paper called the Northern Indian

I’m terrified of delving into military history as always so here are the bare bones facts that we need from Bierce’s military service:

He fought in the Union army from the age of 18 until 24

He sustained a pretty serious head injury and some serious psychological damage

He saw some shit and it definitely had an impact on his writing. The horror of war was something he would come back to multiple times during his time as a writer.

He got married and had 3 kids. The marriage came to an end when he discovered letters to his wife Molly from an admirer, the separated in 1888, but did not divorce until 1904, 16 years later. She died the next year. His 3 kids were 2 boys, Day and Leigh and a daughter named Helen. Day and Leigh both died as young men, Day duel a romantic rejection and Leigh’s alcoholism and a nasty bout of pneumonia got the better of him in 1901. So by 1905 it Helen was Ambrose’s only surviving child.

Ambrose is typically framed as a Soldier, Journalist, writer and hardened cynic.

We will be revisiting Bierce’s amazing short stories at some point and there is an earlier episode of the Frankenpod which is just me reading A Vine on a House which is one of Bierce’s shorter stories. He is one of the wittiest, creepy and concise writers of American gothic fiction. He had a misadventure in Mining getting involved as a manager without experience and at the end of the mining boom so that didn’t go well.

Bierce at the age of 71 went to Mexico while it was in the middle of a revolution. He joined one of the armies as an observer, the army of Pancho Villa. The last known correspondence was from Chihuahua in Mexico and then poof! He vanished!

And that, in very broad strokes is the life of Ambrose Bierce, and if anyone knows a lot more about Mr Bierce and would like to come on the podcast I’d love to talk to you!

Three things you need to know about The Devil’s Dictionary

  1. It is intensely self-indulgent
  2. It is quite misogynist
  3. It is incredibly racist.

Particularly when it comes to Native Americans and Aboriginal people.

Thanks to the U.S. Army Jazz by for making the song Kelli’s no. available in the public domain.

Promo from Not another X Files Podcast

 

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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

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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.

Richard March’s The Beetle with Olivia from What’sHerName Podcast

This blog post accompanies The FrankenPod episode Unpleasant Odours released on Saturday the 14th of July 2018.

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I was lucky enough to be joined by Olivia of the women’s history podcast What’sHerName which draws attention to stories of women who get consistently overlooked. Olivia teaches women’s studies and also has a website on travelling with small children called Around the World in 80 Diapers,

We discussed the often overlooked novel by Richard Marsh, The Beetle. The Beetle was published in 1897, the same year as Dracula and outsold it six times over. Bram Stoker’s Dracula would go on to be adapted, studied and re-imagined throughout the 20th century, whereas The Beetle has been almost lost, like all but a few of Richard Marsh’s 80 pieces of fiction.

The Beetle explores colonialism, politics, religion, gender, race and human exceptionalism. At its core, it is a deeply visceral gothic horror that defies many conventions of Victorian and gothic literature.

The story is told in 4 testimonies, one from Robert Holt a man used as a slave of a character called the Arab who is bent on destroying the life of a quite gifted and liberal politician called Paul Lessingham, the second testimony is from a rival of Paul Lessingham, who is also vying for the affections of his soon to be fiance, Majorie Lindon, the third testimony is from Majori Lindon herself and the final is from a detective called Augustus Champnell who is pulling the whole mystery together.

For more listen to The FrankenPod

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.

Frilled Neck Lucy – Dracula with Erin of SubverCity Transmit

This article accompanies Frilled Neck Lucy by The FrankenPod

For this episode, I talked to Erin who is the host of SubverCity Transmit and voice actor on No Sleep Podcast and Congeria Podcast. She also runs an awesome, spooky online store called Never Not Clever. So I’m incredibly grateful to Erin for making the time to talk to us.

The film we are chatting about is Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) also known as Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Erin knows so much more about the movie than I could possibly hope to learn and among the many insights she has to give, she touches on the influence of Winona Ryder in the production, the Academy Award-winning costume design by Eiko Ishioka and the very deliberately rudimentary special effect that can be such an obstacle to new audiences discovering and engaging with the film.

Other subjects we touched upon include:

  • Lord Byron, because he always pops up
  • The Symbolist Movement
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  • Ghost Hunting
  • Urban exploration
  • The 1991 movie Hook
  • and armadillos… because I just cannot get over this

Again apologies for my brevity!

Morgan