From Joy Lanzendorfer’s 10 Surprising Facts about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein


Eileen sends number 6:
Mary said she made up the name “Frankenstein.” However, Frankenstein is a German name that means Stone of the Franks. What’s more, historian Radu Florescu claimed that the Shelleys visited Castle Frankenstein on a journey up the Rhine River. While there, they must have learned about an unbalanced alchemist named Konrad Dippel, who used to live in the castle. He was trying to create an elixir, called Dippel’s Oil, which would make people live for over a hundred years. Like Victor Frankenstein, Dippel was rumored to dig up graves and experiment on the bodies.
I think we already know most of the other 9 surprising facts, but in case you want to take a look:

Notes on Mary’s attraction to Byron (by Ernest Lovell, 1953)

The complex social and sexual relationships between Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron have long fascinated (titillated?) biographers and critics. On an obscure web page – part of an old University of Pennsylvania course site – I found what strikes me as a classic attempt to describe their goings-on.  Written in 1953 for The Keats-Shelley Journal, Ernest Lovell’s essay is not necessarily the most accurate scholarly account (it was written long before the flood of contemporary research), but I find it quite interesting as a period piece –  an analysis written after the absorption of Freudian ideas by the Academy but before the contemporary wave of scholarship that incorporates a wider variety of critical voices (feminist, post-feminist, post-modern, anti-post-modern, etc.)  The entire article is long (7 double-column pages plus 2 pages of end notes), but it could be an enjoyable read for anyone wants to know more about the early 19th century soap opera, “Who is your father?!:  Life with Byron and the Shelleys.”
(Query:  Does anyone remember if the BBC/Masterpiece Theatre ever did a series on these proto-hippies?)

As a teaser, here’s one paragraph from Lovell’s paper:

Although the chief basis of Mary’s attraction to Byron was unquestionably an emotional one, highly complicated by Godwin’s emotional inadequacy as a father, by Shelley’s boyishness, immaturity, or inadequate masculinity (nothing is revealed more clearly by the novels than this), and by Mary’s jealousy of Claire and extraordinary dependent nature – there were also certain more intellectual sympathies shared by Mary and Byron but not by Shelley, which may be briefly noted here. Perhaps the most important quality of Byron’s mind which would serve to draw Mary to him was his highly developed sense of actuality, his ability to see the world clearly, marred with all its imperfections, and yet to accept things generally as they are. Mary, almost as if composing a deliberate reply to Shelley’s idealizing propensities, writes in her Journal, February 25, 1822, “. . . let me, in my fellow creature, love that which is, – and not fix my affection on a fair form endued with imaginary attributes” (pp. 169-170). From this fundamental kinship of mind flowed other shared points of view: a common opposition to any ideas implying the perfectability of man and a lack of sympathy for such related ideas as a denial of predestination or of the positive existence of matter and of evil. In both Mary and Byron, consequently, there was an almost total absence of any passionate, Shelleyan desire to reform the world. (See Mary’s important Journal entry, pp, 204-206, on her “Lukewarmness in ‘the good cause’ and on her feelings toward ‘the Radicals – they are full of repulsion to me.’”) Mary was no more a genuine radical than Byron was, and with him disapproved equally of Shelley’s religion (one recalls Mary’s church-going habits), his Godwinian ideas of property rights, and his conviction of the meaningless nature of the marriage ceremony. Although the violence of Trelawny’s charges against Mary does her injustice, and the difficulty of being married to such a genius as Shelley should not be underestimated, one may recall Shelley’s remark upon another fundamental difference between them, which would also draw her to the social world of Byron. “Poor Mary,” he is reported to have said, when Trelawney found him one day beside a pool in his woodland study, “hers is a sad fate. . . . She can’t bear solitude, nor I society – the quick coupled with the dead” (Wolfe, II, 196). It was the world of the imagination in conflict with the world of actuality, and Byron, as she saw him, was on the side of actuality and the world of men. As she seems to have told Moore, “In Lord Byron, the real was never forgotten in the fanciful” (Moore, Life of Byron, I, 550).

From: “Byron and Mary Shelley,” by Ernest J. Lovell, Jr., Keats-Shelley Journal, No. 2 (January 1953)


A quick primer on the development of the Gothic in 18th-19th British literature

I stumbled across some interesting pages at the British Museum website that contain, among other things, some essays by academics that seem pitched to a non-academic audience. The section I looked through is called  Discovering Literature: Romantics & Victorians. Here, I found a short piece written in 2014 by Prof. John Mullan entitled, “The Origins of the Gothic.”  In two pages, he makes concise comments about a sequence of Gothic and Gothic-influenced novels, beginning with Hugh Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and concluding with Wilkie Collins’ Woman in White.  Along the way he links Mrs. Radcliffe, Jane Austin, Mary Shelley, the Brontë’s and so forth in a way that I found useful when considering the wider literary context out of which Mary Shelley was writing her “ghost story.”

The origins of the Gothic by John Mullan

NYRB essays on “Frankenstein” (1987, 2017)

I’ve found two interesting pieces in The New York Review of Books that some may have fun looking through.  One is a 1987 review by Claire Tomalin (whom we’ve encountered before) reviewing both a biography of Mary Shelley by Muriel Spark, originally published in the 50’s, and a newly-published collection of Shelley’s journal pages.  Then there’s an essay from December of last year by Richard Holmes who reviews two new annotated versions of Frankenstein.  Fittingly for our age, one is published by MIT and is “annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds.”   The other book is written by Leslie S. Klinger, who has previous compiled annotated editions of Dracula and, perhaps most famously, Sherlock Holmes.  I’ll post some excerpts from the reviews below, but here are links to the PDF files of both pieces (they’re both between 5 and 6 pages).

Claire Tomalin on Muriel Spark’s ‘Mary Shelley’ – NYRB 1987

Richard Holmes on two new annotated editions – NYRB 2017

Here’s an excerpt from Claire Tomalin’s review, commenting on Muriel Spark’s biography of Shelley:

What drew one M.S. to the other? Partly Muriel Spark’s feeling that Mary Shelley had been unjustly effaced by her husband, wrongly judged by her contemporaries and by posterity, and that this should be corrected… [Spark] makes a good case for Frankenstein as an expression of the conflict between eighteenth-century rationalism and Romantic feeling: the monster is feared, but also identified with. She suggests that Mary’s temperament was essentially eighteenth-century and classical, and that she found herself wrongly cast in the middle of the Romantic Sturm und Drang surrounding Shelley, and as a writer much more adept when working with ideas than with feelings. Nightmare and theory were Mary’s territory; her husband’s storms and dreams were all of the heart.

In an early section of his review, Richard Holmes makes some concise comparisons between the different versions of the novel.  His remarks aren’t too original, but they pull together different sources nicely:

The style [of Mary Shelley’s first draft, 1816-17] is bold and direct. It probably began as a “short tale,” with a draft of the famous opening: “It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld my man completed.” The second [version], beginning and ending with Robert Walton’s Arctic expedition, was carefully revised by Mary, lightly edited by Percy, and published in 1818. The style is richer and more digressive, and there is still academic controversy about the overall effect of Percy’s additions (about five thousand words). …

The third version, of 1831, was radically revised by Mary alone, and is longer and altogether darker in tone. The idealistic young Frankenstein is subtly changed into a doomed and tortured figure. … The 1831 introduction gives a further glimpse into the crucial birthing moment. … In the novel the first account is given with horrific clarity by Frankenstein in two short paragraphs, and then in a confused recollection by the Creature himself on the Mer de Glace. The third account now becomes that given retrospectively by the novelist in her own voice, and paradoxically it is the most memorable and disturbing… [Quotation]  The fascination with this moment of dangerous birthing and the subsequent status of the Creature as an unloved or unparented child (rather than a mere monster) are characteristic of much modern, and not only feminist, interpretation.


A capsule account of Shelley’s life around the time she wrote Frankenstein

I think Ellen Moer’s quick description in her essay Female Gothic gives a vivid picture of the kind of life and death that Shelley brought to Frankenstein:

As far as I can figure out, she was pregnant, barely pregnant but aware of the fact, when at the age of sixteen she ran off with Shelley in July 1814. Also pregnant at the same time was Shelley’s legal wife Harriet, who gave birth in November “to a son and possible heir,” as Mary noted in her journal. In February 1815 Mary gave birth to a daughter, illegitimate, premature, and sickly. There is nothing in the journal about domestic help or a nurse in attendance. Mary notes that she breast-fed the baby; that Fanny, her half sister, came to call; that Claire Clairmont, her stepsister, who had run off with Mary, kept Shelley amused. Bonaparte invaded France, the journal tells us, and Mary took up her incessant reading {96} program: this time, Mme de Staël’s Corinne. The baby died in March. “Find my baby dead,” Mary wrote. “A miserable day.”In April 1815 she was pregnant again, about eight weeks after the birth of her first child. In January 1816 she gave birth to a son: more breastfeeding, more reading. In March, Claire Clairmont sought out Lord Byron and managed to get herself pregnant by him within a couple of weeks. This pregnancy would be a subject of embarrassment and strain to Mary and Shelley, and it immediately changed their lives, for Byron left England in April, and Claire, Shelley, Mary, and her infant pursued him to Switzerland in May. There is nothing yet in Mary’s journal about a servant, but a good deal about mule travel in the mountains. In June they all settled near Byron on the shores of Lake Geneva.

In June 1816, also, Mary began Frankenstein. And during the year of its writing, the following events ran their swift and sinister course: in October Fanny Imlay, Mary’s half sister, committed suicide after discovering that she was not Godwin’s daughter but Mary Wollstonecraft’s daughter by her American lover. (The suicide was not only a tragedy but an embarrassment to all. Godwin refused even to claim Fanny’s body, which was thrown nameless into a pauper’s grave.) In early December Mary was pregnant again, as she seems to have sensed almost the day it happened. (See her letter to Shelley of December 5, in which she also announced completion of Chapter 4 of her novel.) In mid-December Harriet Shelley drowned herself in the Serpentine; she was pregnant by someone other than Shelley. In late December Mary married Shelley. In January 1817 Mary wrote Byron that Claire had borne him a daughter. In May she finished Frankenstein, published the following year.

Death and birth were thus as hideously intermixed in the life of Mary Shelley as in Frankenstein’s “workshop of filthy creation.” Who can read without shuddering, and without remembering her myth of the birth of a nameless monster, Mary’s journal entry of March 19, 1815, which records the trauma of her loss, when she was seventeen, of her first baby, the little girl who did not live long enough to be given a name. “Dream that my little baby came to life again,” Mary wrote; “that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived. Awake and find no baby. I think about the little thing all day. Not in good spirits.” (“I thought, that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption.”)

Moer’s whole essay, Female Gothic, is worth a read.

NYRB Review of Scorsese’s film (1993)

Header for Annan review posting

I’ve been holding back one more piece I found in the archives of The New York Review of Books — a November 1993 review by Gabriele Annan of Martin Scorsese’s film, The Age of Innocence.  There’s a touch of Pauline Kael about Annan here, in that she writes discursively (5 pages) – and stretches the subject to include a few other Wharton films.  But her analysis of the film is useful, I think, and her reflections have a bit more substance to them than do Ebert’s (as she was writing for a magazine and he for a newspaper.)

– Tom

NYRB 1993 – Annan reviews Wharton and Scorcese