*Insert Bad Haircut Joke Here* The String of Pearls (1846) and Sweeney Todd (2007)

This week we looked at the story of Sweeney Todd as he moves from the monstrous, immoral demon of Fleet Street to tragic serial killer hellbent on revenge.

We don’t like Sweeney Todd in any of his incarnations, but it is a damn good story.

Brent watched the 2007 Tim Burton Movie and the 1979 stage show

I read the novel version of the 1846-1847 serialised Penny Dreadful titled The String of Pearls or Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (authorship contested).

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The story is not the sad tale of the tragic and violent figure of Sweeny Todd. It begins really with the story of Lieutenant Thornhill who is bringing the Titular string of pearls to the fiance of shipmate he believes to be dead. His mission to deliver the pearls entrusted to him by Mark Ingestrie to his sweetheart Joanna Oakley is rudely interrupted when he decides to go for a shave as soon as he arrives in London and has the misfortune to choose Sweeny Todd as his barber. Something happens, we don’t quite know what and Thornhill is gone. Thornhill, however, did not arrive in England alone and his faithful dog remains to wait at the barber’s door bitterly mourning his owner. This does not go unnoticed. And one of the more unfortunate souls who are at the heart of this mystery is a little guy called Tobias. He is a young boy who Todd has taken on as his apprentice. Todd beats the boy when he gets out of line or questions the increasing number of men disappearing from the shop to the point at which Tobias ends up a shivering crying wreck in the corner. When Tobias goes to inform authorities Todd has him sent to an asylum, where it is implied that he is not the first of todd’s apprentices to enter the facility if we can even call it that. A large portion of the narrative is devoted to heavily implying, in fact, they come out and say explicitly at one point that they aren’t so much treating or confining people as actively killing them off.

Meanwhile, Thornhill’s disappearance is noticed by his friends Colonel Jeffrey, who not only begins to investigate the disappearance, he also takes it upon himself to get the message of her sweetheart Mark Ingestrie’s death to Joanna Oakley. Joanna is upset obviously but doesn’t believe that Mark Ingetsrie is actually dead because Colonel Jeffery had never met him and was just conferring the information from Thornhill. Joanna begins to believe that the missing Thornhill is actually Jeffery in disguise. She also begins to investigate his disappearance. Her mother is also a religious zealot who is in the thrall of this cultish reverend who believes that he is the chosen one and Joanna is his chosen bride, which ends up resulting in her father and his beefeater cousin turning the reverend out of the house. Her mother then poisons her father and the cousin, survivable poisoning, but there is a bunch of full-blown misogyny in here as well like the cousin telling the story of how he will never marry because even women who seem sweet and supplicant to the whims of men have their own self-determination (that is not his words, he are grosser). At some stage, Joanna decides that her best course of action to dress as a boy and enter into an apprenticeship with Todd, who is, as luck would have it in need of a new apprentice because the last one went mad don’t cha know.

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The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Once upon a time, there was a guy named Brent who trusted Morgan to tell him a story with a beginning, middle and end…

This is the blog post that accompanies The FrankenPod episode Drood! released on the 7th of July 2018. Click here to add us into your podcast app!

This episode we talk about the last story written by Charles Dickens, the characters, the story, the adaptations…

Brent gets a little emotional.

Stay past the outro music for some extra bits including Brent getting excited about theatre stuff and a promo for 6 Degrees of Wiki

The bleak, cold and unfeeling city of London and it’s sometimes monstrous inhabitants, corrupt power structures and labyrinthine streets and alleyways place the work of Dicken’s squarely within Victorian Gothic and The Mystery of Edwin Drood is no exception.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is the story of the disappearance and potential murder of the titular Edwin Drood who had recently quarrelled with a guy named Neville, broke off an engagement with Rosa and has the misfortune to be a relation to a very unsavoury character named John Jasper. Rosa and Edwin seem to have ended their betrothal by their fathers on friendly terms and it is possible that Drood and Neville Landless managed to patch things up before his disappearance, which just kind of leaves Jasper.

But is Drood really dead and what is the deal with that weird guy Dick Datchery who just turned up out of the blue?

Listen HERE

Once you finish the episode here are the videos Brent promised you:

Promo for the Broadway Show:

 

Super Abridged Musical

The Characters speak:

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…

Desperatly Seeking Watson

Listen to The FrankenPod episode; Desperately Seeking Watson

It’s 1881 and 2010 the toll of the war in Afghanistan is being felt by returning veterans who are struggling to find their place within a society that has no frame of reference for their recent experience. One of the more disenfranchised of these returning veterans is one Doctor John Watson, a medical man who is suffering physically and psychologically due in large part to an injury he sustained to his shoulder/leg. He has no real home, no real family or friends. He is a man adrift waiting for the nearest high functioning sociopath to sweep him off his feet and into an implausible mystery.

Tonight we are talking about the character that his own creator resented, the man who popularised a fallacy about deductive reasoning, the frequent ejaculator Sherlock Holmes. 

Actually, I lie Watson is the frequent ejaculator that was rude of me.

Just a warning, this is NOT going to be a comprehensive exploration of holmes, we’re probably going to do other holmes episodes at some point, and I know that there will be people who know far more about Sherlock Holmes  listening to this, so I can only apologize for any inaccuracies and omission, and I extend an open invitation to come on the podcast and share your knowledge.

For this month’s episode, I read A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Brent watched the 2010 episode of BBC’s Sherlock and the unaired pilot.

Full disclosure, I have viewed the BBC Sherlock on numerous occasions, probably more often than I have read the story, but it’s pretty close. This is the story at the very beginning, the story in which Watson meets Sherlock, their eyes meet and a marketable franchise is born.

John Watson served in the Second Anglo-Afghan war. So the bulk of my information about this comes from the story itself and reading an article on garenewing.co.uk. Definitely not knowledgeable about war history so please bear that in mind. The conflict lasted for 2 years from 1878 to 1880

John Watson is said to be in Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers as an Assistant Surgeon. He was playing catch up of a kind, I’m sure that’s the technical term, and when he arrived at Bombay they were already in Kandahar. Then getting attached to another unit called the Berkshires. It’s after this that he goes to into the battle of Maiwand and incurs the injury and PTSD that he will be dealing with when he meets Holmes. He cites his orderly Murray as being instrumental in his survival after being wounded by a bullet.

Turns out that some war history research types have basically said nope, wrong place wrong time no Murray to nearly all of this, and have gone about systematically providing the actual information associated with Arthur Conan Doyle’s assertions and I just wanted to point out that we live in a world where someone bothered to do that and it’s beautiful and the internet is just swell sometimes. You can find that info here 

Also, Holmes says in his whole showing off how brilliant he is that he can tell all of the things about Watson including that ‘He has just come from the tropics’ which is bullshit because Afghanistan isn’t in the tropics so suck on that Sherlock.

In the novel, we meet Gregson and Lestrade who Holmes says try jealousy to outdo each other and are rivals on the police force. 

 

The emphasis on the ring is in both the novel and television show In the novel it is because it is the proof of the injustice and cruelty of the victim to the woman that is at the centre of the mystery.

Rache is German for revenge and Jefferson Hope adopts the use of this term and the crime scene as it is the modus operandi of a criminal in the United states that baffled the police and he hoped that he could utilize the same pageantry to throw off Scotland Yard.

There is a similar murder weapon, the two pills and the gun to enforce the choice.

The victims are Stangerson and Drebber. Drebber took the pill choice, stangerson attacked Jefferson Hope and so Hope had to stab him.

The cabby is still the murderer and he is about to die from an aneurysm in the aorta

Part two is very strange, we find out about Jefferson Hope’s motivation for murdering the two men. I’m going to do a bare-bones summary are you ready. There is lots of Mormon hating coming up:

John Ferrier and a tiny 4-year-old Lucy are dying of thirst and starvation on the plains of Utah, they were part of a larger group including Lucy’s parents, but they are the only two left alive. They are rescued by a large caravan of Mormons headed by real-life Mormon leader brigham young, who basically says that he will only save them if they follow all the tenants of the Mormon faith. John Ferrier Does pretty well out of the situation when they get to the ‘promised land’ he gets a portion of land and becomes very wealthy. He adopts Lucy and years pass with her growing up in a super creepy male gaze montage. She goes out one day on horseback and some shit goes down and she is rescued by Jefferson hope, who falls in love with her. He kind of proposes and then goes away for a job. Meanwhile Brigham young tells John Ferrier that Lucy will have to marry a Mormon dude or John Ferrier will be killed and lucy forced into matrimony. She has two to choose from, Drebber or Stangerson, both of whom are already in polygamous relationships They give them 30 days to comply, like some sort of weird notice to vacate and John Ferrier sends for Jefferson Hope to see if he can come and help. He turns up just in time in a weird face planting and crawling along the ground type situation which is ridiculous and I have a quote

They go on the run. But the Mormons catch up and while Jefferson hope is away from Lucy and killing John Ferrier and abducting lucy. Lucy dies not long after being forced to marry Drebber and so Jefferson Hope goes seeking revenge, even after Drebber and Stangerson go to England. And so that is the motivation of Jefferson Hope. He knows one of them killed John Ferrier and they forced Lucy into a marriage that was the apparent cause of her death. The ring at the crime scene is Lucy’s.

This is the point where I need to talk about the representation of Mormons. It’s pretty brutal, the taking of Lucy by force and the way Christianity is held up as the ideal and Mormonism is seen to be criminal and debauched is bad enough, but Conan Doyle attributes awful behaviour to real live people apparently based on sensationalised reports of the time that demonised the Mormons. As an atheist, I don’t think it’s fair for me to make value judgements about anyone’s religion, but the portrayal was so bad that apparently, Arthur Conan Doyle extended a personal apology to Brigham Young.

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.

cover
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.

0108-mcauley-and-stewart

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. 

4267222-4x3-940x705.jpg
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

An Interview About Vampires

So this week’s episode of The FrankenPod, features an interview that I (Morgan) recorded with Alix Roberts who has written an amazing thesis on Vampiric women, which I had not read at the time of recording but that I have since read and it is goddamn amazing. Unfortunately, the audio is pretty shoddy. Totally my fault and I’m going to extend the invitation to Alix for her to come on the show again so you can hear how wonderful she is without the clicks and hisses of an angry National Broadband Network.

I have changed the way I do interviews now so hopefully, this will

NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN

Alix’s Podcasts: Chasing Tale and Bloody Ripper

Texts Discussed: 

She by H. Rider Haggard can be found on the book depository

Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe can be found on Project Gutenberg in Volume 3 of the works of Poe

Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu can be found on Project Gutenberg

The Blood of The Vampire by Florence Marryat can be found on book depository

No big long blog posts for me at the moment because between my literature and communications courses uni is really kicking my butt right now. I will write more when I get the chance.

Thank you for listening or reading or how ever it is that you interact with us.

Image By No 1 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Chetwyn (Sgt) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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.

Percy Frankenstein/Victor Shelley

When a novel like Frankenstein appears to come out of the blue and change the world of literature forever, finding the inspiration behind it can keep scholars and enthusiasts busy for centuries (yep, we hit year 200 of Frankenstein publication this year!). Finding the inspiration for the troubled and deeply problematic figure of Victor Frankenstein is one of the primary areas of interest. A pretty popular, and generally accepted theory of the doctor’s origins is that he is partially based on none other but Mary Shelley’s husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley (yes, I blew the reveal in the title).

Posthumous Portrait of Shelley Writing Prometheus Unbound 1845 Joseph Severn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Posthumous Portrait of Shelley Writing Prometheus Unbound 1845 Joseph Severn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Here are some of the cornerstones of the argument:

Victor was Percy’s Pen Name ¹

Percy used the pen name Victor in a collection of poetry he wrote with his sister Elizabeth (writing as Cazire). You can read Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire on the internet archive. Check out the link in the references.

Percy Played with Electricity²

Percy took a keen interest in science since his early school days. His interests included astronomy, chemistry and… electricity. His interest was kindled by an assortment of teachers and tutors and he kept up to date with new developments in the scientific community, including the experiments of Erasmus Darwin as touched on in the 1831 introduction to Frankenstein³.

Antiquated Science and the Occult ⁴

In Frankenstein; Or the Modern Day Prometheus, Victor explains that at the foundation of his love of science is the, now outdated and viewed as occult, authors Agrippa and Paracelsus (see The Mortal Immortal for more on Mary Shelley and Cornelius Agrippa). Percy Bysshe Shelley was also familiar with the works of these specific writers and had more than a passing interest in their more outlandish hypotheses. He spent a good deal of money on books of witchcraft and magic when he was young, and you can certainly see that reflected in his poetry.

The Illuminati Connection⁵

It seems that Mary sent Victor to Ingolstadt University which was known for a particularly atheistic movement headed by Prof. Weishaupt. A group was founded called … GASP The Illuminati in 1776. This group advocated for a more enlightened state not run by the government of their day or by the religious establishment, or some mix of the two. As you can imagine these ideas were fascinating to a radical (for his time obviously) atheist like Percy Shelley. So is the locating of Victor’s formative years in the Bavarian Ingolstadt a nod to Percy’s enthusiasm for the Illuminati? Possibly not, but it’s a nice idea.

Hubris⁶

It could be that Percy’s atheism was troubling Mary. She was more orthodox in her beliefs than Percy. It’s entirely possible, in fact probable, that Mary thought this desire to view the world without God was to greatly overestimate the role of human autonomy. The hubris associated with atheism and ideas behind self-determination certainly lends itself to a Frankenstein narrative when viewed through the lens of typically 19th century English sensibilities.

Grief⁶

Similar to Mary’s despair at Percy’s dismissal of the role of a God as an omnipotent creator, was her dismay at the apparent indifference he demonstrated after the death of their first child. This is demonstrated in her letters to others. She felt the grief intensely but Percy seemed willing to leave the whole devastating business behind them without moarning as she did. This ability to shut out the tragedy of their first child’s death could potentially be seen as being echoed in Victor’s rejection of his creation.

There a few other points of commonality that I am not going to get into here include; family structure, education and Percy and Victor perhaps sharing an Oedipal complex, that last one is really interesting, but I have plans for that topic!

But there is also an argument that the poet was the inspiration for Henry Clerval more on that another time.

These theories are not mutually exclusive, it is entirely possible that Mary Shelley put a little of Percy in every guy she wrote. He was the main adult male person she spent time with for years after all.

Inspired by:

Legacy.owensboro.kctcs.edu. (2018). PercyModel. [online] Available at: http://legacy.owensboro.kctcs.edu/crunyon/CE/Frankenstein/Name/Prometheus/percymodel.htm [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].

References

  1. Archive.org. (2018). Full text of “Original poetry by Victor & Cazire (Percy Bysshe Shelley & Elizabeth Shelley) Edited by Richard Garnett”. [online] Available at: https://archive.org/stream/originalpoetryby00sheluoft/originalpoetryby00sheluoft_djvu.txt [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].
  2. King-Hele, D. (1992). Shelley and Science. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 46(2), 253-265. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/531637
  3. Shelley, M. (2018). Frankenstein, or Modern Prometheus. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg.
  4. Bieri, J., 2004. Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Youth’s Unextinguished Fire, 1792-1816 (Vol. 1). University of Delaware Press.
  5. Vickery, M. (2018). The birthplace of the Illuminati. [online] Bbc.com. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20171127-the-birthplace-of-the-illuminati [Accessed 1 Mar. 2018].
  6. CARSON, J., & Carson, J. (1988). Bringing the Author Forward: “Frankenstein” Through Mary Shelley’s Letters. Criticism, 30(4), 431-453. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/stable/23112085

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