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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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

Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca with Linzi from 33% Pulp

This is a belated blog post for the episode ‘Playing Mrs De Winter… Rebecca By Daphne Du Maurier with Linzi from 33% Pulp’of the FrankenPod. Click here to add us into your podcast app!

First things first, I’m so grateful to Linzi for making the time to not only talk to me about the book but taking the time to reread it! Linzi’s amazing podcast is called 33% Pulp in which she, her cohost Daniel and a rotating third host recap a work of pulp fiction one third at a time. It is very funny and I listen to new episodes as soon as they come up in my podcast feed.

Linzi shares some very interesting theories and insights into this amazingly ambiguous text and talks about how her view of the novel has changed since her first reading.

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Never read Rebecca?

‘Rebecca’ was released in 1938 and owes much of its success to the possible straight romantic reading, but when you complicate the narrative by drawing attention to the unreliable narrator and the subversive themes that hide just below the surface there is something very strange, gothic and wonderful going on.

An unnamed young girl with no family meets a dark, broody Mr Rochester of Jane Eyre type, the widower Mr Maximillian Dewinter type while in Monte Carlo, he proposes to her after like a week or two and they go to his estate and Mansion Mandalay.

His first wife called him Max but he tells our named narrator she must call him Maxim

But the first Mrs De winter, the titular Rebecca has not quite left. Her presence is felt everywhere and her former personal maid Mrs Danvers is of the firm opinion that our unnamed narrator has in someway usurped Rebecca’s role in the house and we as readers think that this is going to be the plot, the pseudo haunting of the unnamed narrator by the more elegant, sophisticated and attractive Rebecca. But…

The Gothic City

Welcome to The FrankenPod a podcast stitched together from the corpses of mystery, noir and gothic literature and cinema. This is just a short bitesize episode this week.

It’s so easy to get bogged down in the castles, monasteries and estates of the gothic tradition. The dramatic architecture featured in countless gothic tales such as The Castle Otranto, Northanger Abbey, The Monk and even isolated estates like Wuthering Heights are hard mental images to shake when conjuring up images of a gothic backdrop.

However, if we can depart from these places of heritage and means to more recently fabricated structures, the roads and slums of the city are certainly fit for our sinister gothic purposes.

The cold unfeeling city with its grit, grime and smog have become a staple in gothic literature since the industrial revolution. The distrust of mechanisation and the visible incorporation of the poor into that mechanisation made the city into a monstrous spectacle of poverty barely hidden from the upper and middle classes from whom a great deal of the literature of the time emanated. The impoverished and the working class were vulnerable, expendable and silent, as they had been for time immemorial, through feudal systems and imperialism. Things were beginning to shift in 19th Century England however as the industrialised city placed the new middle class in a position in which they could become socially mobile and have means to rival the aristocracy. And all classes were seemingly perched on a precipice, one false move and they could end up penniless in a poorhouse, at least that was the perception. This anxiety around class and poverty paved the way for writers like Dickens and Henry Mayhew who show the perils and pitfalls of a class system in crisis.

Henry Mayhew is not one of our gothic authors but is an early investigative journalist who spent a lot of time interviewing the poverty-stricken of London. One of my favourite writers William Makepeace Thackeray wrote of Mayhew’s work ‘London Labour and the London Poor

‘A picture of human life so wonderful, so awful…so exciting and terrible’

The city of Paris in a state of revolutionary crisis is the not only the setting but key to Guy Endore’s portrayal of the Werewolf in The Werewolf of Paris. Paris is continually cannibalising itself in much the same way as the Werewolf does to his victim. Endore’s story is one I would love to examine further, but that will have to wait. Here, however, is a quote from the narrative that explores the inhumanity and mass atrocities that occur when a city beset with internal conflict:

“Why should this one wolf be shut up for an individual crime, when mass crimes go unpunished? When all society can turn into a wolf and be celebrated with fife and drum and with flags curling in the wind? Why then shouldn’t this dog have his day too?”

For more listen to The FrankenPod Episode “The Cold Unfeeling City”

Sources:

My Favourite Vampire with Sarah from Good Nightmare

This post accompanies The FrankenPod episode My Favourite Vampire

Dracula is one of those monsters who is so pervasive and terrifying, I’ve already explored how he has been contorted and manipulated to fit our social anxieties. Despite the very “of their time” nature of Dracula adaptations, the appeal of certain adaptations divisive, and not by the age of the reader or viewer and the contemporary adaptations of their time. The novel Dracula has a timeless appeal that may not be entirely the case with a movie. The 1931 movie has an enduring quality, but it has visibly aged and has lost its edge, the 1992 movie is still narratively compelling but the effects and augmentation of the original text place it firmly in the 90s. I asked a fellow Australian podcaster, Sarah, from Good Nightmare to tell me why the novel is such a favourite of hers.

In order to fully explore Dracula we would be remiss if we didn’t cover the 1931 movie

Fun fact the Spanish language Dracula was filmed on the same set, but at night, so they were able to perfect the shots that the American crew may have botched a little. Many many regard the Spanish version as the superior film. I have not watched the Spanish version but I instead watched the American Universal Studios Version of Dracula directed by Carl Laemmle jr. and starring Bela Lugosi as the titular Count.

 

The 1931 movie features a lot of close-ups of Dracula, with lights focused on his eyes. This way of depicting the hypnotic gaze is effective but more than a tiny bit ridiculous. Also, we never see a bite, we just see people leaning ominously in and the scene fades or the vampire moves slowly and ominously out of shot. The movie is as subtle as a brick, but let’s face it you don’t come to Universal Studios Monster canon for a nuanced story. They have very obviously styled Lucy as a “modern woman”, and carried out some serious 1930s slut-shaming, because she deserved to be bitten, unlike the pure and innocent Mina. Hey everyone, can we have an adaption of Dracula in which we don’t care about Lucy because she is less chaste or special than her friend Mina? Please. If there is one please let me know because I would love to see it.

I’ve said some nasty things about the film, but I do really appreciate some very special elements that the film brings to the Dracula narrative,

The movie gives us an origin story for Renfield (which means we get soooo much supernaturally crazed Dwight Frye which I am 100% here for)

Helen chandler’s performance is wonderful, over the top and just beautiful. Obviously, Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Eric Van Sloan as Van Helsing are the most iconic characters in the movie but Helen Chandler as Mina Harker almost mare me like the character of Mina more. The bushy moustaches of the Transylvanian villagers are something to behold, honestly, this movie’s moustache game may be the best I’ve seen. An honourable mention has to go to Jonathan’s Suits. They almost made him interesting.

The Brontës

This week The FrankenPod (rss feed for podcast app) episode is a conversation with Megan from Oh No! Lit Class on the literary family the Brontës. The gothic classic Jane Eyre was penned by Charlotte and Emily wrote the eerily gothic Wuthering Heights. It’s a bit of a rambling chat in which we also delve into the comedy sci-fi world of Douglas Adams, the childhood trauma of the Goosebumps series and the Byronic elements of Christian Gray, so I don’t have a script to publish. So here are some quotes from the works of the children of Patrick Brontë who survived to adulthood:

Photo by John Illingworth
Photo by John Illingworth. Branwell Brontë A wood statue by the canal depicting Branwell, the black sheep of the Brontë family, as well as other landmarks and characteristics of Calderdale. Branwell was for a couple of years a booking clerk at the nearby Luddendenfoot railway station but left under a cloud.

Patrick Branwell Brontë

Thorpe Green by Patrick Branwell Brönte

I sit, this evening, far away,
From all I used to know,

And nought reminds my soul to-day
Of happy long ago.Unwelcome cares, unthought-of fears,
Around my room arise;
I seek for suns of former years
But clouds o’ercast my skies.Yes-Memory, wherefore does thy voice
Bring old times back to view,
As thou wouldst bid me not rejoice
In thoughts and prospects new?I’ll thank thee, Memory, in the hour
When troubled thoughts are mine-
For thou, like suns in April’s shower,
On shadowy scenes wilt shine.I’ll thank thee when approaching death
Would quench life’s feeble ember,
For thou wouldst even renew my breath
With thy sweet word ‘Remember’!

Charlotte Bronte by G. Richmond 1850
Charlotte Bronte by G. Richmond 1850

Charlotte Brontë

Quote from Jane Eyre spoken by Jane herself:

“If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should—so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again. […] I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly. It is as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved.”

Disputed portrait by her brother Branwell; sources are in disagreement over whether this image is of Emily or Anne
Disputed portrait by her brother Branwell; sources are in disagreement over whether this image is of Emily or Anne

Emily Brontë

Quote from Wuthering Heights, taken from Nelly’s final narration:

Mr. Kenneth was perplexed to pronounce of what disorder the master died. I concealed the fact of his having swallowed nothing for four days, fearing it might lead to trouble, and then, I am persuaded, he did not abstain on purpose: it was the consequence of his strange illness, not the cause.

We buried him, to the scandal of the whole neighbourhood, as he wished. Earnshaw and I, the sexton, and six men to carry the coffin, comprehended the whole attendance. The six men departed when they had let it down into the grave: we stayed to see it covered. Hareton, with a streaming face, dug green sods, and laid them over the brown mould himself: at present it is as smooth and verdant as its companion mounds—and I hope its tenant sleeps as soundly. But the country folks, if you ask them, would swear on the Bible that he walks: there are those who speak to having met him near the church, and on the moor, and even within this house. Idle tales, you’ll say, and so say I. Yet that old man by the kitchen fire affirms he has seen two on ’em looking out of his chamber window on every rainy night since his death

Anne Brontë Drawn by Charlotte
Anne Brontë Drawn by Charlotte

Anne Brontë

From the introduction to The Tenant of Wildfell Hall:

I am satisfied that if a book is a good one, it is so whatever the sex of the author may be. All novels are or should be written for both men and women to read, and I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be really disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man.