Friday, August 30, 2013

Quote of the Week: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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Happy Birthday to Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, born on this day in 1797!

It goes without saying that Frankenstein is one of the most indelible horror stories of all time. The concept of creating (or re-creating) life and thwarting God's plan is a compelling one. Shelley herself had quite a compelling and scandalous life and the birth of her now-famous tale had equally auspicious beginnings.

The following looks very long and history-y, but it is juicy and scandalous, I promise. Read on!

Shelley's mother died when she was very young and her father raised her in an educated and liberal household, encouraging her to learn and voice her opinions. (Very unheard of for the time!)

She met "radical poet-philosopher," Percy Bryce Shelley, when she was in her early teens and the two began meeting in secret when she was merely sixteen (he was twenty-two and married.) Her father disapproved of the liaison for many reasons (including Percy defaulting on a deal to bail her father out financially) and forbade the two to carry on so.

Percy and Mary then skipped town, leaving his pregnant wife behind and fled for Calais. Mary's step-mom followed them and tried to talk sense into Mary, but she was having none of it. The couple (plus Mary's cousin, Claire) then floated around Europe and blew what little money they had. When they ultimately became completely penniless, Mary was shocked to learn that her father had disowned her. Mary, herself, discovered she was then pregnant also. (That Percy...)

The couple lived on the cheap, (with Percy dodging creditors at every turn) surrounded by a wide circle of friends and were rumored to have believed in (if not outright practiced) free love. (Those hippies...)

Mary gave birth to a boy, Henry, and then a premature baby girl who did not survive. The loss of her second child, coupled with Percy's broke-ness, married-ness and all-around philandering jerk-ness (possibly with her very own cousin, Claire), plunged Mary into a dark depression, which may have put her in just the place to write such a dark novel as Frankenstein.

Things took a brighter turn (although, I'm positive Percy was still an ass) when Percy's grandfather died and left him some money, followed by Mary giving birth to another boy, William, who was healthy.

So.....Frankenstein. Mary and Percy (and that little tart, Claire) decided to spend the summer of 1817 in Geneva with Lord Byron (who had recently knocked up Claire.)  The foursome hung out all summer boating and picnicking and reading each other German ghost stories around the fire. This led the infamous challenge that resulted in one of the greatest novels of all time.

Byron challenged the foursome to come up with intriguing horror stories to share with the group. Mary had a waking dream of a student practicing dark medicine over a corpse in an attempt to re-animate it. Frankenstein started out as a short story, but under the encouragement of Percy and Byron, Mary extended it to a full-length novel.

Frankenstein was published anonymously in 1818 and then re-edited and re-published in 1823 and 1831.

Percy and Mary finally married after his wife killed herself by drowning and Mary gave birth to a third child. People speculated that Percy had more of a hand in Frankenstein then was reported, but both maintained that he we merely Mary's editor for technicalities.

In 1822 Percy died in a boating accident. Mary continued to write and never re-married despite many offers. She felt that no one met up to the "genius" of Percy. She died of a presumed brain tumor in 1851 at the age of 53.


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