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Frankenstein; Or the Modern Day Prometheus, Victor explains that at the foundation of his love of science is the, now outdated and viewed as occult, authors Agrippa and Paracelsus (see The Mortal Immortal for more on Mary Shelley and Cornelius Agrippa).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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Bysshes Love Poetry – Percy Bysshe Shelley

This article is part of The FrankenPod‘s (A Frankenstein Podcast) continued exploration of Frankenstein and its author Mary Godwin/Mary Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Born: 4th of August, 1792 in Sussex, England

Died: 18th of July 1822, by drowning in Lerici, Italy

Percy Bysshe Shelley is a strange and even a little elusive character; not destructive like Byron, but certainly not without his own brand of violence and willfulness. Elusive actually is probably a fair assessment, he is only elusive in the same way that most of us are, in that we can’t really guess at his motivation for many of the actions he takes, some of which seem totally inexplicable.

The young Percy was born into a family of means and went to Syon House Academy in London for his early education where he showed a particular interest in science, and a violent response to bullying. This may have planted the seed that lead to the poet pushing back against all forms of control and governance, which he saw as a form of bullying, for the rest of his life³. This anti authoritative streak inevitably drew him to the great antiestablishment thinker of his time, the often anarchsitic writer and philosopher, William Godwin (The father of Mary Godwin, later Shelley). But before we end up at William Godwin’s residence in The Polygon we must first address the often pushed aside figure in this story¹:

ianthe_shelley_bw
Ianthe Shelley

Harriet Westbrook/Shelley

Harriet Westbrook was born on the 1st of August 1795. She was intellegent, witty and the daughter of a coffee house owner in Grosvener Square². Harriet forged a friendship with Shelley’s younger sister Helen, and the match appears to have been encouraged, at least by the Westbrook’s as a marraige between the two would mean an elevation in class for their daughter². The two eloped to Scotland when Harriet was 16 and Percy, 19. The legality of the marraige was dubious so they remarried 3 years later. They had two children, Charles and Ianthe together, but not long after the birth of their first child Percy began disappearing for long periods of time. Supported by her family, and given financial support from Percy, the rapid and messy separation did not leave her financially destitute, but emotionally the whole ideal had caused a great deal of distress and trauma. This grief, for grief we must call it, was intensified when Percy and Mary ran off together. There is talk of her taking a lover, and it is documented that she took lodging away from her family as she had become pregnant again, this time out of wedlock.

At some stage after this, still pregnant, in 1816, the year of the events in the Villa Diodati, she wrote emotional farewell letters to her family, and drowned herself in the Serpentine River.

I think we’ll end this post here with the death of Harriet Shelley nee Westbrook and pick up on Percy’s narrative another time, because this tragedy is too often glossed over.

At what cost do we have Frankenstein in the form Mary wrote it?

It’s certainly not worth the life of a 21 year old, who never asked to be part of this romantic tragedy in the first place.

References

  1. Knarf.english.upenn.edu. (2018). Percy Bysshe Shelley. [online] Available at: http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/PShelley/pshelley.html [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].
  2. Knarf.english.upenn.edu. (2018). Harriet Shelley. [online] Available at: http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/People/hshelley.html [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
  3. Bieri, J., 2004. Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Youth’s Unextinguished Fire, 1792-1816 (Vol. 1). University of Delaware Press.
  4. Featured image: Percy Bysshe Shelley by Amelia Curran- National Portrait Gallery: NPG 1234

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.

AllegraByron
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.

 

Something I learned about Frankenstein from Bette London

This is an article written as part of The FrankenPod‘s exploration of Frankenstein or The Modern Day Prometheus and Mary Shelley.

This is a review of an article I have used repeatedly in my writing on Frankenstein or the Modern Day Prometheus. I will not be providing enough detail to negate reading the actual article. Please seek out Bette London’s article Mary Shelley, Frankenstein and the Spectacle of Masculinity in its entirety.

Bette London’s article starts by describing the reframing of Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s stories by their son Percy. The son was much more conventionally Christian and embarrassed by the risque reputation his parents had garnered. Front and centre of this rebrand of the Shelley story is the statue by Henry Weekes at the top of the article which uses Christian iconography to paint a picture of Mary as a Madonna-like figure to the spectacle of Shelley’s masculine martyrdom.

London then goes on to critique both feminist and nonfeminist readings of Frankenstein and this is the bit where I started to really pay attention. She asserts that the sexless or female reading of the Creature’s gender and even that of his creator as a feminist reading draws focus away from the very obvious spectacle of the masculine form that reoccurs throughout the novel. Emphasis is placed on the physical male form, and it is laid out periodically for others to gaze upon. If we deny the masculinity of Victor and his Creature we deny Mary Shelley‘s deliberately and explicitly masculine spectacle which she artfully constructed to highlight the hubris and deficiencies of this particular brand of masculine creation.

You may notice that I often refer to Mary Shelley as Shelley, rather than adhering to convention and using Shelley as a shorthand for Percy Bysshe Shelley. It is really down to Bette London’s article on the male spectacle in Frankenstein, in which she points out that that the esteemed authoress is always Mary to Percy’s Shelley, even in scholarship surrounding Frankenstein that should give greater deference to the author of the text.

It gets confusing because I am so accustomed to this mode of addressing the poet as Shelley, a la Byron, Keats and Coleridge, that I often slip and have to go back through an article to check how many times I messed up.

This over-familiarity when addressing Mary Shelley, in addition to the portrayal of her authorship as monstrous shows an almost calculated dismissal of her role as one of the most influential gothic, horror and proto-science fiction authors in the English literary canon.

“How could a girl of 18 write such a confronting story?”

FrankensteinDraft
Draft of Frankenstein (“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld my man completed …”)

Well, because she is intelligent, imaginative and more than little disenfranchised. She also had a lot of opportunities to flourish that she might not have had if she was not surrounded by “radicals” who had already been prepped for an intelligent, persistent and creative woman by her mother. It’s not that strange when put in perspective, and if we take away those antiquated notions of the fragility of a young maiden. Frankenstein is singular, groundbreaking and monstrous; Shelley’s authorship, however, should not be viewed in similar terms.

Shelley should be regarded as a genius of gothic fiction, rather than a mysterious anomaly. The woman of the 1810s was exposed to her share of gruesome spectacles and overwhelming sorrow, so what, aside from a lack of access to education and the means of publication, was so different between the male aspiring writer and the female?

It is simply a matter of social conditioning and fewer opportunities.

And if we are too busy looking at the monstrous spectacle of female authorship, we’re likely to miss the spectacle of male ego, cruelty and hubris that is right in front of our faces.

The League of Incense – The Villa Diodati

byron-greek-dress
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”

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