Moulding dark shapeless chaos into exuberant creation.
From the perspective of trauma and literature-and-science studies (the latter as established in the past two-three decades mainly), Mary Shelley's biography emerges as a paramount example of how deeply traumatic experience and artistic extraordinary creativity are inextricably linked together in the act of fathering/mothering literary masterpieces.
As Mary Shelley is now indisputably best known as the author of Frankenstein; or, The modern Prometheus, this novel offers us a main framework of reference with regard to the relationship between traumatic biography and creativity in fiction. In Mary Shelley studies, among others, a question of vivid debate remains the nature (existence or lack) of her fictional/literary genuine creativity, such as debated for instance in Radu Florescu's In search of Frankenstein: exploring the myths behind Mary Shelley's monster (1999). For some reason, Mary Shelley felt the need to redefine the Gothic into her own personal version of it, by which she transformed the already classical static Gothic "horror-bearer" (the haunted castle, the enchanted forest, etc.) into an itinerant element, namely the moving Daemon, who has been interpreted, debatably, as playing the role of a doppelganger or double of Victor Frankenstein himself. To evaluate these complex matters, we need to survey the present state of affairs with regard to how Mary Shelley's major works have been decoded. A prominent fact will thus be clearly established: personal pain and suffering moulded everything Mary Shelley accomplished in the area of extraordinary creativity (the latter in Nancy Andreasen's acceptation, 2006): Frankenstein (1818) and The Last Man (1826) remain world literature landmarks, masterpieces of a kind never before and never again accomplished by any other novelist writing in English.
Mary Shelley is in this respect an excellent case in point, since it is well known that in her famous Preface for the 1831 edition of Frankenstein she discussed the very nature of fictional creation precisely as not being the work of an unfolding pure imagination operating ex nihilo, but, on the contrary, as being the work of a sort of melting pot of information and emotion, namely the "chaos" of experience. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and The Last Man especially, but also other fictions by her, represent indeed an excellent example of a fiction-making laboratory that is bound to create a highly successful work of art, because this laboratory contains, on the one hand, an updated synthesis of the main knowledge and purposive ideals of science and art, at least in the Western tradition sense of the word, and, on the other, life in its pure form, undisguised, unadulterated, un-beautified, unfolding with its unbounded joys and abysmal pains. Mary Shelley's fiction-making laboratory thus uses as a primary "fuel" life itself, in its genuine form a melting pot of suffering and happiness out of whose intertwining, at least in the two novels mentioned above (Frankenstein and The Last Man), overflows the authenticity of her creative powers and genius.
It is one of the reasons why so many pages in Frankenstein and The Last Man approach, as has been noted by various scholars, the status of pure art expressing an extraordinary joy and exuberance of expression. What is more, from an aesthetic point of view it is essential to notice that both Frankenstein and The Last Man set forth in their internal structures an extraordinary contrast: the trauma/pain of existence and the joy to write: the two opposites are necessary to each other in the processes of dynamic creativity--as in William Blake's equation--, since by their presence these opposites shed light on each other's inner existence and power, to the point even of secretly strengthening each other. Here is how Blake briefly and brilliantly formulated this binary/dyadic dynamics:
Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence. / From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy. / Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell. (cf. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 3; Blake 1979:149)
As in the case of literature and science--which are traditionally considered to form the "two [opposite] cultures" (C. P. Snow's term for an older conflict, kindled in the 1880s, between Matthew Arnold and T. H. Huxley, the first speaking of the primacy of the humanities, the latter of the superior importance of the sciences; see especially Huxley 1991 for details) and which, nevertheless, according to holonic-holistic theories derived from the works of Arthur Koestler (1989) and Ken Wilber (1995) (and others), form an integrated whole, a gestalt, with potentially inexhaustible reservoirs of creativity--so in the case of trauma and joy of creativity in Mary Shelley's case, and in general, the two realities seem to constitute two necessary poles/ pillars of expression, both ontic in nature: traumas in one's biography often lead to sublimated forms of creativity that represent forms of defense in front of traumatic experiences. This kind of creative defense--which is used for instance by persons of depressive temperament--is accomplished, especially when the creator is young (as in Mary Shelley's case), by "tormented laboriousness" leading to creative jewels like a novel, a poem, a painting, a sonata, etc., the very creative process warding off depression and feelings of helplessness and misery (cf. Storr 1972: 44-47). Likewise, conversely, high creativity seems to attract traumatic experiences (see the notion of "disastrous genius"--Ghiselin 1985: 14), so that great works of art seem never to emerge where there is no pain/ trauma/ suffering/ catastrophe experienced by the artistic/scientific creator. It would appear, at one point or other many literary or scientific great creators have suffered deeply, going through soul troubling experiences; this suggests that pain, like joy, is a kind of universal of human experience, needed in creativity if the latter is to be memorable through numberless generations.
Plunging deeper and deeper into pain
Mley's biography is tumultuously intricate ely linked with the fascinating literary she created in her writings often by metamorphosing true life events into fiction.
Reputedly one of the strangely gifted English novelists, Mary Shelley (nee Mary Wollstonecraft) (30 August 1797, London--1 February 1851, London) is best known as the author of Frankenstein; or, The modern Prometheus (1818, revised 1831), a narrative written when she was hardly nineteen years old. This work became "one of the most famous novels of all time," one that, via the modern movies, reached the status of "a universal myth in western culture," an "echoing presence in the psychic unconscious of modernity" (Duncker 2009: 97, 99), an integral "part of our social and cultural iconography" (Jansson 1999: VII), "the most powerful horror story of all times" (Florescu 1999: 65), while Mary Shelley herself came to be ranked as "a paradigm of the woman writer," "an icon of female creativity, of female inspiration, of the capacity of woman to give birth to myth" (Duncker 2009: 97, 99). Besides in the writing of haunting novels, Mary Shelley's creativity manifested itself in the writing of visionary short-stories, too, as well as in diligent editing, writing reviews and essays.
The first most obvious clue that comes to explain to a certain extent the nature of Mary Shelley's strange creativity related to trauma (the traumatic element in this sense issuing from the battle between man's will to gain freedom and man's will to control man) is the unusual combination of liberalistic worldviews embraced by her parents: her mother was the feminist thinker Mary Wollstonecraft (who twice attempted suicide, cf. Jamison 1994: 231) and her father was the famous radical anarchist philosopher and novelist William Godwin, who was an atheist and rationalist professedly believing in human perfectibility and natural justice attainable by the cultivation of reason.
Mary Shelley's first ominous traumatic experience can be said to have come about in the very first days after she was born: on September 10, 1797, Mary Wollstonecraft died of puerperal fever, only eleven days after giving birth to Mary--hence later the obsessive idea in Frankenstein related to creation in the absence of the mother. According to Storr (1972: 47), the lack of a mother will lead to psychological "irreversible damage," such as the incapacity of the offspring to mate or to develop normal social relationships. In Mary Shelley's case, this incapacity to mate was sublimated into Victor Frankenstein's unwillingness to create for the Daemon a feminine counterpart. More precisely, Victor in fact is at one point on the verge of creating this female for the Daemon, but he then changes his mind, thinking that the two monsters united could thus give rise to a whole new race that might supplant humanity, or, still worse, the female monster could reject the male, enraging the latter only the more, thus the initial state of affairs going from bad to worse. Otherwise, indeed Mary's relation with Percy was far from being a normal, common one, as we shall soon see in some detail.
Her mother's tombstone (in St. Pancras Cemetery, on the outskirts of London, in Old Camden Town) became for Mary her favourite retreat, where she usually went to read and write--hence later her threshold interest in the dead and in the undefined boundary between the two worlds, that of the living and that of the departed. The extreme, on-the-verge situation regarding the marriage of Mary's parents should also be pointed out: Mary Wollstonecraft had married William Godwin when being already five months pregnant with Mary (also, she already had a daughter, Fanny Imlay, from an earlier love affair), and the marriage itself was accepted only as a convention, since the two did not believe in this social institution. It should be noted that another traumatic event took shape after the death of Mary's mother: William Godwin, her father, became more and more alienated from her--an element later incorporated in Frankenstein: the inability of Victor Frankenstein as a father to accept his "child," the Daemon/Monster.
Mary Shelley was raised in the proximity of London, in Somers Town, and did not receive a formal education. There are reports showing that she, too--like her mother--, suffered, for long periods, "nervous depression" and "severe mood swings" (Jamison 1994: 231). Traveling temporarily from Scotland to London, she swiftly met the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (born on August 4, 1792) and his wife, Harriet Westbrook Shelley, at her schoolroom on the 11th of November 1812, when he paid a visit to her father, for whom Percy had great admiration. The reason of Percy's visit was to discuss the terms of a loan (in 1805 Godwin had launched his publishing firm named M. J. Godwin & Co., that was to bring to the cultural market some of the most widely read children's books of the period--cf. Fisch, Mellor, Schor 1993: 5--, as well as other works scientific or otherwise in nature, but now Godwin was in some business debt, and Percy was willing to pay the entire sum over time). (M. J. Godwin & Co. published also Mary's first story, Mounseer Nongtongpaw, in 1808).
Two years after their first fugitive meeting, on the 5th of May 1814, the two met again. Percy was then already estranged from his wife. After Mary declared her eternal love for Percy--and Percy pledged his eternal love for her--at her mother's tombstone, and because Percy came meanwhile to see her as "a child of love and light," the two decided to elope to France, which they did on the 28th of June 1814. Then Mary was only seventeen and already pregnant by him, while Percy was twenty-one, and still married since 1811 to Harriet, who was also pregnant by him a second time: a daughter had already been born to Percy, Ianthe Shelley, and their second child was to be Charles Shelley (born in 1814); however, the real father of the latter, it was suspected by some including Percy, was not Percy, but Harriet's lover, Captain Ryan.
Of course, the explosive potential of Mary's first adventure is very obvious.
The public scandal of Mary and Percy eloping and traveling to Europe was enhanced the more by their taking with them Mary's stepsister, Jane Clairmont, later called Claire (the daughter of Mary Jane Clairmont, Mary's stepmother from 1801, as a consequence of William Godwin's having remarried that year), who had been the one making possible the secret meetings between the two before their elopement. Later in 1816 Claire was going to have an affair with Lord Byron, and, according to Richard Holmes (1974, 1985) and others, possibly even with Percy Shelley. Like the new couple, Jane Clairmont was just as eager to get away from home owing to the inherent maternal caprice, and because she was also fond of romantic adventures and ghost stories. Otherwise, the young Mary and Percy were of the opinion, just like Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, that the ties of the heart were naturally more important than and superseded the legal bonds.
Mary's life now became extremely agitated and she traveled quite a lot--with almost no time for ease. Thus, in Paris the three young adventurers found un-expensive lodging in Hotel de Vienne. At this time they were making future plans for a trip to Switzerland. During July and August 1814 they traveled to France, Germany (here Mary and Percy probably visited Castle Frankenstein, as we will presently show in more detail), Switzerland, and Holland. In September they returned to England, and in the next two months Percy found lodging in London, avoiding his creditors. In August 1815 Mary moved to Bishopsgate, Windsor. In May 1816 Mary, Percy and Claire moved from England to Geneva, where Lord Byron was waiting for Claire. In June of the same year they all took a trip to Mont Blanc.
The travel to Switzerland was seminal for Mary's literary unfolding powers, since during this time she wrote (with Percy) her travel book History of a Six Weeks' Tour (published in 1817), in which she recounts her experience of the majesty of the Alps and the time spent near Geneva in the summer of 1816 (the Shelleys had rented the Villa Chapuis, or "Campagne," located in the Montalegre part of the hill, in the village of Cologny; Florescu 1999: 101).
At the now famous Villa Diodati (rented by Lord Byron) that year Mary, Percy, Byron and John Polidori (Byron's personal physician) decided to have a literary contest: writing ghost stories.
This is the occasion on which Mary started composing, on June 16, 1816, her major novel, Frankenstein; or, The modern Prometheus--completed in 1817, while Polidori wrote the novella entitled The Vampyre (it would appear by recasting Byron's old notes--Florescu 1999: 121--that the latter had made for writing his own ghost story, which he included in Mazeppa, 1819), publishing it in The New Monthly Magazine (on 1 April 1819) under Lord Byron's name--for which the latter was deeply upset. The irony of it is that by this episode Byron later became the father of all vampiric literature.
In July 1816, the group visited Chamonix. In September 1816 Mary returned to London, while Percy and Claire went to Bath.
On 9 October 1816 another dramatic event took place: Fanny Imlay, Mary Wollstonecraft's daughter, committed suicide on finding out that her father was not William Godwin, but Mary Wollstonecraft's American paramour.
On 10 December 1816, yet another misfortunate event occurred: Harriet Westbrook Shelley took her own life by drowning herself in the Serpentine, Hyde Park, London. Five days later Percy got wind of the tragic event that paved the way for his remarrying--in London, only three weeks later, on 30 December 1816, Mary and Percy got married in St. Mildred's Church, London. The reason for the haste seems to have been, however, justified: their hope to thus gain custody of Percy's two children by Harriet Westbrook. Yet the episode remains ominous for what was to come later.
In 1817 the Shelleys moved to Marlow, and in March they were joined by Claire Clairmont, who had recently (on 12 January 1817) given birth to a child by Lord Byron, Alba Byron (later Allegra Byron). In March 1817, another trying event came upon the Shelleys: Percy lost custody of his children, Ianthe and Charles Shelley.
Mary's work on Frankenstein was over on 14 May 1817. This was published anonymously on 1January 1818 by Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones. As Pamela Clemit (2003: 26) observed, even though in its original version Frankenstein appeared anonymously, Mary "advertised her primary intellectual allegiance in the dedication of the first edition, 'To William Godwin, Author of Political Justice, Caleb Williams, &c.'"
This led to the following interesting situation:
Reviewers, piqued by the absence of the author's name, were quick to draw parallels with Godwin's writings, but could not agree on the nature of those parallels. Sir Walter Scott, in a long, insightful piece in Blackwood's Magazine, declared that Frankenstein was a novel on the same plan as Godwin's St. Leon: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century (1799) in which "the author's principal object [...] is less to produce an effect by means of the marvels of the narrations, than to open new trains and channels of thought" [Scott 1818: 614, apud Clemit 2003: 42, n. 1]. He surmised that the author was Percy Bysshe Shelley, Godwin's son-in-law. (Clemit 2003: 26-27)
(However, in the second slightly revised edition of Frankenstein, published in 1823, Mary Shelley's name was revealed to the public as being that of the author of this strange work)
In March 1818 the Shelleys moved to Italy (in April they got to Milan, in June, to Bagni di Lucca, and in September they paid a visit to Lord Byron in Venice). Towards the end of this year, in November and December, they went to Rome and then to Naples. In 1819 they resided in Rome between March and June. In June 1819 they moved to Leghorn (Livorno). In August this same year Mary started to write Matilda. In October 1819 they moved yet again, to Florence this time.
On 26 January 1820 the Shelleys moved to Pisa where in February Mary finished her work on Matilda. In March she started her work on Castruccio, Prince of Lucca, later renamed by William Godwin to Valperga; and in April and May she wrote the mythological verse dramas Proserpine and Midas.
After relocating several times, in October 1820 the Shelleys went again to Pisa to be together with Edward and Jane Williams, Lord Byron being in close proximity.
Between August and December of 1821 Mary finished Castruccio. This year, 1821, it seems, is the year when Percy began an affair with Jane Williams.
In 1822 the Shelleys moved to Casa Magna, close to Lerici.
On 19 April of this year, another painful event took place: Allegra Byron died of typhus.
Between 1814 and 1822, the year of Percy's death, Mary and her husband thus kept on relocating, spending time mostly in England, France and Italy.
Between 1815 and 1819, years crucial for the making of Frankenstein, Mary experienced traumas excruciating for a mother: she lost three of four children:
--Her first child was a daughter, born prematurely on the 22nd of February, 1815. She died after twelve days, on March 6, 1815. Some critics hold that this death is quintessential in understanding Frankenstein, given the intense sense of devastation in Mary Shelley's heart (Jansson 1999: VIII; see also Beer 2003: 169, his comments on the genesis of the novel Frankenstein). In her journals, Mary wrote on the 20th of March 1815 about a dream she had in which the child was again alive:
Dreamt that my little baby came to life again; that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived. Awake and find no baby. (The journals of Mary Shelley, 1814-1844, Shelley M 1987i: 70; apud Jansson 1999: VIII)
--Her second child was a son, William, born on the 24th of January, 1816. He died of the Roman fever at the age of three, while in Rome, on 7 June 1819. The illness was visible already on 2 June 1819, when the Shelleys were at the Baths of Lucca. The blue-eyed handsome William, nicknamed "Willmouse," is immortalized in the portrait of the fictional William, Victor Frankenstein's brother, who was killed by the Creature on the field of Plainpalais--a fictional episode considered by some critics as being a prophetic anticipation. Mary was again devastated. This time she felt it was the end of everything (Florescu 1999: 128).
--Her third child was a daughter, Clara Everina, born on 2 September 1817. She died next year (1818) in September while in Venice during a visit of the Shelleys to Lord Byron. The little girl had fallen ill with an Italian fever at Este.
--Her fourth child was a son, Percy Florence. He was born in Florence on 12 November 1819, the only one to survive to adult age.
What is more, at Casa Magni at Lerici, on 16 June 1822, Mary had a further miscarriage and nearly died. It was Percy who saved her life by having put her in a tub filled with icy water in order to stop the hemorrhage.
This terrifying list of dramatic experiences in Mary Shelley's life was to reach the acme on the 8th of July 1822, when Percy Shelley and Edward Williams decided to take a trip in the poet's sailboat, baptized by Percy The Ariel, but christened by Lord Byron The Don Juan, in order to meet Leigh and Marianne Hunt: a storm flooded the boat and the two were drowned in the Gulf of Spezzia. Percy's body and Edward's were found on the beach off Via Reggio on 16 or 17 July, being buried in the sand by peasants, as was customary in such cases. In his pockets Percy was found carrying a volume of Sophocles and one with Keats's poems.
Mary recounted later that Percy had had premonitory nightmarish visions at Casa Magni (his last residence in Italy) just a few days before he got drowned:
[I]n the middle of the night I was awoke by hearing him scream & come rushing into my room; [...] he continued to scream [...] What had frightened him was this--He dreamt that lying as he did in bed Edward & Jane (Williams) came into him, they were in the most horrible condition, their bodies lacerated [...]--Edward said--Get up, Shelley, the sea is flooding the house & it is all coming down; S. got up, he thought, & went to the his [sic] window that looked on the terrace & the sea & thought he saw the sea rushing in. (Letter to Maria Gisborne, Pisa, dated 15 August 1822; cf. Bennet 1980: 245, apud Duncker 2009:109-110)
Relative to Percy's funeral the following shattering episode has become legendary: the heart of the English poet just would not burn. Leigh Hunt seems to have taken away these earthy remains of Percy Shelley and would not give them up until Jane Williams harshly intervened in favour of Mary, who was finally given Percy's unburned heart that is reported (by Lord Byron) to have overflown, in the burning process, with an oily substance (MacCarthy 2002: 429-430). Mary kept Percy's heart with her most of the time, and it was found in her traveling desk at her death, "dried to dust [...] in a copy of Adonais." (Bennett 1980: 255-256n, apud Duncker 2009: 112)
It is indeed unimaginably painful for Mary Shelley to have had this Frankensteinian experience (Frankenstein's monster was made up of bodily parts) in her own real life, maybe even without realizing it, or maybe just the same realizing it all too well--as Patricia Duncker keenly observed, it is strange how Mary Shelley somehow prophetically imagined in 1816 and 1817 the fictional monster creating its own funeral pyre and burning itself up in a fiery conflagration, for her only a bit later, in 1822, to witness how Percy Shelley's dead body was devoured by flames--with the heart stubbornly resisting fire. One may ask therefore whether high art thus attracts disaster on the very lives of high-ranking creators, as is suggested above.
After her husband's death, Mary joined Lord Byron and Leigh Hunt at Genoa in September 1822.
In February 1823 she published Valperga; or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca. This is a historical romance whose setting is Italy of the 14th century, containing gothic elements such as a gloomy castle full of secret passageways, a witch, a Wandering Jew character, an albino dwarf (Punter & Byron 2004: 164).
Seeing that Frankenstein is very popular and that there already appeared a highly successful three-act opera adapting for the stage the theme of the novel (Richard Brinsley Peake's Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein, 1823), William Godwin asked Whitaker to print a second edition of Frankenstein in 1823. This second edition is almost identical with the 1818 original version, but it contains a title-page bearing Mary Shelley's name. M. K. Joseph (1998: XV) pointed out the following in this sense:
[This] second edition of 1823 is simply a page-by-page reprint of the first, rearranged in two volumes; its publication was arranged by William Godwin in order to follow up the success of Presumption, the stage version of the novel.
This is thus the first (only formal) revision of Frankenstein. A further revised third edition with an introduction by Mary Shelley was to be published in 1831: here the text proper is different from that in the first and second editions.
Mary returned to London in August 1823 with her only surviving son, Percy Florence, and devoted her entire life to his education and to the publication of Percy's works. She was never to remarry, although American playwright John Howard Payne (in June 1825) and possibly Prosper Merimee (in 1828) made marriage proposals. Her rejection came in the context of a disappointment related to the fact that her intimate relationship with Aubery Beauclerk (a widower) did not lead to a wished marriage (Fisch, Mellor, Schor 1993: 6).
In 1824 Mary published The Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, but the work was withdrawn from the market when Percy's father, Sir Timothy Shelley, objected to the publication of his son's work. Since the infuriated Sir Timothy Shelley threatened to no longer offer Percy Florence his allowance, Mary was forced to agree not to keep on working on publishing Percy's writings, thinking that Percy's father (alias the "Struldbrug"--cf. Fisch, Mellor, Schor 1993: 6--as she nicknamed him) would soon die (that, however, happened only twenty years later, in 1844).
During the spring of 1824 Mary started to compose a further novel, being haunted by the need to write about Percy's life. In January 1826 she published it under the title The Last Man, considered her most successful novel (Snodgrass 2005: 316), and now sometimes ranked as her best work and an "early prototype of science fiction" (Bomarito 2006, vol. 3: 320). In this regard, Richard Garnett (1891: VII-VIII) stressed the following:
[The Last Man] demands great attention, for it is not only a work of far higher merit than commonly admitted, but of all her works the most characteristic of the authoress, the most representative of Mary Shelley in the character of pining widowhood which it was her destiny to support for the remainder of her life. It is an idealized version of her sorrows and sufferings, made to contribute a note to the strain which celebrates the final dissolution of the world.
The painful experience of widowhood thus led with Mary Shelley to a unique masterpiece, by which yet another piece of evidence is brought regarding the fact, emphasized by Ghiselin (1985: 2), that "[t]he human mind is prepared to wrap the whole planet in a shroud."
In The Last Man, an apocalyptic fantasy novel set in the 21st century (the action taking place between the year 2073 and the last year of the world, 2100), Mary celebrates her experience as companion of Percy and Lord Byron (who had died at Missolonghi on 19 April 1824, trying to help the Greeks in their war for independence), giving an account of the future devastation of mankind. Thus, in a fantastic display of narrative power where pain and joy secretly join together, we are presented with the causes of this final destruction of man: war, plague, anarchy, natural disasters like earthquakes, storms, the arrival of giant destroyers, of giant tidal waves flooding the Earth, of "mountainous waves" requiring "cyclopean walls" for their repulsion, the emergence of a "wall of water" springing from the impact of "three mock suns united in one, and plung[ing] into the sea." We are told that grass is sprouting thick in the city streets, nature swollowing up the cities. The Northern States of America are formed and an American invasion of England occurs. A food crisis ensues and the "days of depopulation" unfold with irresistible force. A black sun (of the size of the Sun) appears from the West. In the context in which at one point Mary Shelley mentions the precession of the equinoctial points, she speaks of a "second sun" seen setting by Lionel Verney as he enters alone Ravenna and the world is already empty of human life--this is the climax of the story, when one man alone remains, Lionel Verney, seeing two suns setting on the sky (a fact reminding one of the much disputed question of the Sumero-Akkadian Nebiru or the Planet of the Crossing, now known as "Planet X"). Lionel Verney's, i.e. the Last Man's, solitude resembles that of Victor Frankenstein's "child": the Daemon is a creature more alone than the Devil himself (as the Daemon also comes to realize), since the latter fell from heaven not alone, but with three of the twelve celestial hosts. Mary Shelley contemplates in this novel her terrifying destiny, namely to be left by all her best friends, Percy and Byron, alone on earth--so she is metaphorically Lionel Verney. The novel is influenced by Lord Byron's philosophy regarding the decay of civilization, in turn influenced by Georges Cuvier's geological theory known as catastrophism (see details on this doctrine in Velikovsky 2009: 211ff); as well as by Thomas Malthus's Essay on the principles of population (1798; 5th edition by 1817). It is a testimony to the excruciating grief Mary Shelley experienced as she lost one by one the people most dear to her (as mentioned, the heaviest blows were the loss of her husband, three children, and best friend, Lord Byron). Here are a few relevant thoughts expressed through Lionel Verney:
After a long interval, I am again impelled by the restless spirit within me to continue my narration; [...]. The details contained in the foregoing pages, apparently trivial, yet each slightest one weighing like lead in the depressed scale of human afflictions; this tedious dwelling on the sorrows of others, while my own were only in apprehension; this slowly laying bare of my soul's wounds: this journal of death; this long drawn and tortuous path, leading to the ocean of countless tears, awakens me again to keen grief. I had used this history as an opiate; while it described my beloved friends, fresh with life and glowing with hope, active assistants on the scene, I was soothed; there will be a more melancholy pleasure in painting the end of all. (The Last Man, vol 2, chap 8; Shelley M 2004: 212)
The novel is thus a "journal of death," which is written as a means to resurrect the past and thereby the narrative becomes a way to defend the soul against existential despair triggered by the "gigantic calamity" ("disease, desertion, famine" in the novel; human loss, in Mary Shelley's life) that visited mankind (and the writer of the novel herself) with such fierceness as to render death a comforter. Verney (to be understood as an alias of Mary Shelley's talking of her own drama) comments:
The vast annihilation that has swallowed all things--the voiceless solitude of the once busy earth--the lonely state of singleness which hems me in, has deprived even such details [of the disaster] of their stinging reality, and mellowing the lurid tints of past anguish with poetic hues, I am able to escape from the mosaic of circumstance, by perceiving and reflecting back the grouping and combined colouring of the past. (The Last Man, vol 2, chap 8; Shelley M 2004: 213)
In such passages, the narrative becomes a deeply confessional report on Mary Shelley's inner life. Poetry thus acts here as an "opiate," writing itself "mellows" the fierce grief, affording an escape into a realm of the imagination, where the shadows of the past become vivid presences. Also, Verney reaches a holistic perspective:
Time and experience have placed me on an height from which I can comprehend the past as a whole; and in this way I must describe it, bringing forward the leading incidents, and disposing light and shade so as to form a picture in whose very darkness there will be harmony. (The Last Man, vol 2, chap 8; Shelley M 2004: 212)
Further still, in a context in which he seems to embrace Georges Cuvier's theory of catastrophism (the novel is about sudden natural cataclysms, and the geological fossil records of the Earth speak in favour of the existence of such phenomena in the distant and more recent past: everywhere on the planet there exist, scattered in various forms such as erratic boulders, undeniable pieces of evidence showing that the planet suffered not just once sudden violent changes, "paroxysms of nature"; cf. Velikovsky 2009: 219ff), Verney explains the effect of keen suffering, whereby an hour can be drawn into an eternity:
The experience of immemorial time had taught us formerly to count our enjoyments by years, and extend our prospect of life through a lengthened period of progression and decay; the long road threaded a vast labyrinth, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death, in which it terminated, was hid by intervening objects. But an earthquake had changed the scene--under our very feet the earth yawned--deep and precipitous the gulf below opened to receive us, while the hours charioted us towards the chasm. But it was winter now, and months must elapse before we are hurled from our security. We became ephemera, to whom the interval between the rising and setting sun was as a long drawn year of common time. (The Last Man, vol 2, chap 8; Shelley M 2004: 218)
The idea is resumed later, when Verney meditates on the human ephemeral condition, reminding us of P. B. Shelley's and Lord Byron's philosophies on that topic:
I did not fear for myself, but it was misery to think that we could not even save this remnant. That those I loved might in a few days be as clay-cold as Idris in her antique tomb; nor could strength of body or energy of mind ward off the blow. A sense of degradation came over me. Did God create man, merely in the end to become dead earth in the midst of healthful vegetating nature? Was he of no more account to his Maker, than a field of corn blighted in the ear? Were our proud dreams thus to fade? Our name was written "a little lower than the angels;" [Psalm 8: 5] and, behold, we were no better than ephemera. We had called ourselves the "paragon of animals," and, lo! we were a "quintessence of dust." [Hamlet, 2, 2, 307-308] We repined that the pyramids had outlasted the embalmed body of their builder. Alas! the mere shepherd's hut of straw we passed on the road, contained in its structure the principle of greater longevity than the whole race of man. How reconcile this sad change to our past aspirations, to our apparent powers! (The Last Man, vol 3, chap 6; Shelley M 2004: 318)
In a passage remarkable for its brilliance and connections with catastrophist theories challenging the doctrine of uniformity (the latter as expounded by James Hutton and Charles Lyell, whose works became later the foundation of Charles Darwin's concept of natural selection, underlying which was the idea of very slow evolution; see Velikovsky 2009: 211ff), Lionel gives the following answer to the questions above:
We must all die! The species of man must perish; his frame of exquisite workmanship; the wondrous mechanism of his senses; the noble proportion of his godlike limbs; his mind, the throned king of these; must perish. Will the earth still keep her place among the planets; will she still journey with unmarked regularity round the sun; will the seasons change, the trees adorn themselves with leaves, and flowers shed their fragrance, in solitude? Will the mountains remain unmoved, and streams still keep a downward course towards the vast abyss; will the tides rise and fall, and the winds fan universal nature; will beasts pasture, birds fly, and fishes swim, when man, the lord, possessor, perceiver, and recorder of all these things, has passed away, as though he had never been? O, what mockery is this! Surely death is not death, and humanity is not extinct; but merely passed into other shapes, unsubjected to our perceptions. Death is a vast portal, an high road to life: let us hasten to pass; let us exist no more in this living death, but die that we may live! (The Last Man, vol 3, chap 7; Shelley M 2004:329-330)
Such a passage may be taken to represent literary evidence that, being overwhelmed with grief, Mary Shelley may have thought about suicide, but resisted nonetheless for reasons that might be linked to her mission as a writer. Thus, in the middle of destruction, suffering and despair, paradoxically the joyful seed of creation--Lionel Verney tells us--germinates, as if thriving on the rushing waters of tears, and surely building fortresses of resistance against despondent gestures such as suicide (artistic creation is thus clearly asserted as a means of defense against self-inflicted extinction):
Sights of woe now became familiar to me, and were I to tell all of anguish and pain that I witnessed, of the despairing moans of age, and the more terrible smiles of infancy in the bosom of horror, my reader, his limbs quivering and his hair on end, would wonder how I did not, seized with sudden frenzy, dash myself from some precipice, and so close my eyes for ever on the sad end of the world. But the powers of love, poetry, and creative fancy will dwell even beside the sick of the plague, with the squalid, and with the dying. A feeling of devotion, of duty, of a high and steady purpose, elevated me; a strange joy filled my heart. In the midst of saddest grief I seemed to tread air, while the spirit of good shed round me an ambrosial atmosphere, which blunted the sting of sympathy, and purified the air of sighs. If my wearied soul flagged in its career, I thought of my loved home, of the casket that contained my treasures, of the kiss of love and the filial caress, while my eyes were moistened by purest dew, and my heart was at once softened and refreshed by thrilling tenderness. (The Last Man, vol 2, chap 8; Shelley M 2004: 219)
That Mary Shelley considered, but resisted, suicide seems evident also from the following two relevant passages, in which a description is given of how man is capable of enduring the fiercest of pains calmly, under the most extreme conditions, finally abandoning himself to its reality, nay, becoming the overly skilled apostle of suffering:
We have a power given us in any worst extremity, which props the else feeble mind of man, and enables us to endure the most savage tortures with a stillness of soul which in hours of happiness we could not have imagined. A calm, more dreadful in truth than the tempest, allayed the wild beatings of my heart--a calm like that of the gamester, the suicide, and the murderer, when the last die is on the point of being cast--while the poisoned cup is at the lips, as the death-blow is about to be given. (The Last Man, vol 3, chap 9; Shelley M 2004: 353)
Until now, agonizing retrospect, and dreary prospects for the future, had stung me when awake, and cradled me to my repose. Many times I had delivered myself up to the tyranny of anguish--many times I resolved a speedy end to my woes; and death by my own hands was a remedy, whose practicability was even cheering to me. What could I fear in the other world? If there were an hell, and I were doomed to it, I should come an adept to the sufferance of its tortures--the act were easy, the speedy and certain end of my deplorable tragedy. But now these thoughts faded before the new born expectation. I went on my way, not as before, feeling each hour, each minute, to be an age instinct with incalculable pain. (The Last Man, vol 3, chap 10; Shelley M 2004: 364)
A veritable ode to suffering is thus offered, pointing to the fact that the entire book is not only a "journal of death," but also a hymn to all who grieve, pain being the secret "light" hiding through all things, illuminating them from within, intertwining itself inextricably with all joys of creation:
The day had clouded over, and a drizzling rain set in at sunset. Even the eternal skies weep, I thought; is there any shame then, that mortal man should spend himself in tears? I remembered the ancient fables, in which human beings are described as dissolving away through weeping into ever-gushing fountains. Ah! that so it were; and then my destiny would be in some sort akin to the watery death of Adrian and Clara. Oh! grief is fantastic; it weaves a web on which to trace the history of its woe from every form and change around; it incorporates itself with all living nature; it finds sustenance in every object; as light, it fills all things, and, like light, it gives its own colours to all. (The Last Man, vol 3, chap 9; Shelley M 2004: 355-356)
The root of all suffering is identified in solitude, a condition that in Frankenstein was primarily the monster's condition. Here, in The Last Man, it is man who becomes the prodigy, crying to God, his maker, why He has forsaken him:
Why could I not forget myself like one of those animals, and no longer suffer the wild tumult of misery that I endure? Yet, ah! what a deadly breach yawns between their state and mine! Have not they companions? Have not they each their mate--their cherished young, their home, which, though unexpressed to us, is, I doubt not, endeared and enriched, even in their eyes, by the society which kind nature has created for them? It is I only that am alone--I, on this little hill top, gazing on plain and mountain recess--on sky, and its starry population, listening to every sound of earth, and air, and murmuring wave, I only cannot express to any companion my many thoughts, nor lay my throbbing head on any loved bosom, nor drink from meeting eyes an intoxicating dew, that transcends the fabulous nectar of the gods. Shall I not then complain? Shall I not curse the murderous engine which has mowed down the children of men, my brethren? Shall I not bestow a malediction on every other of nature's offspring, which dares live and enjoy, while I live and suffer? (The Last Man, vol 3, chap 10; Shelley M 2004: 365-366)
The iconic image of Lionel Verney "on this little hill top, gazing on plain and mountain recess" indeed reminds us of Caspar David Friedrich's "atmospheric landscape" painting entitled Wanderer watching a sea of fog (circa 1817-1818), with its sublime view (derived from the 18th century vedute--or "views"--style, cf. Wolf 2007: 50) of the romantic (dressed with medieval German clothes) who, scanning all alone the vast world from the top of a steep rocky mountain and standing firm and proud with his back to the beholder, reflects most probably on the miracle of existence and on man's helplessness in front of such awe-inspiring giant powers as displayed by the boundless craggy horizon on sight. It is a good representation in painting of Friedrich's theory that "art is infinite," while "all artists' knowledge and ability" are "finite" (apud Wolf 2007: 50).
All of the above fragments from The Last Man are indeed priceless documents that can be regarded as a kind of intimate diary of Mary Shelley's, who, while writing the novel, was dealing as best she could with her own personal drama, persistently wondering--in philosophical, but also in religious terms--about the reasons for her dire misfortunes.
Further on Mary continued to publish fiction: The Adventures of Perkin Warbeck in 1830 (a historical novel); Lodore in 1835 (a domestic romance, which became the most popular of her novels since the publication of Frankenstein); and Falkner in 1837 (also a domestic romance) (this one after she lost her father, William Godwin, in 1836).
Between 1835 and 1840 she wrote biographical essays for Rev. Dionysius Lardner's The Cabinet Cyclopaedia (Lives of the most eminent literary and scientific men of Italy, Spain, and Portugal--biography, 3 volumes, published in 1835, 1836 and 1837; Lives of the most eminent literary and scientific men of France--biography, 2 volumes, published in 1838 and 1839).
Having been grudgingly allowed by Sir Timothy Shelley to do so, Mary edited Percy Shelley's Poetical works in 4 volumes in 1839, with numerous notes; and in one volume in 1840. Also in 1840 she edited a two-volume edition of Percy Shelley's Essays, letters from abroad, translations and fragments. In 1839, after finishing her editorial work on Shelley's manuscripts, she contracted a major "nervous illness": in an entry for March 1839, her Journal reads as follows:
Illness did ensue--what an illness--driving me to the verge of insanity--Often I felt the cord snap and I should no longer be able to rule my though [t]s with fearful struggles--miserable relapses--After long repose, I became somewhat better. (The journals of Mary Shelley, 1814-1844, Shelley M 1987ii: 563, apud Jamison 1994: 231)
Her physician recommended opium; she took it, and that "strengthened [her] head, which had gone far astray," but left her with a "sort of unspeakable sensation of wildness and irritation," as she reported in a Letter to Leigh Hunt, dated 20 July 1839 (The letters, Shelley M 1983: 318; apud Jamison 1994: 231).
The final publication during her life was Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840,1842 and 1843 (1844), a travel book similar to her first publication, History of a Six Weeks' Tour (1817). This last work is considered by some critics to be one of her best works--it most certainly ended the circle of her creativity in a grandiose manner.
Mary Shelley was finally diagnosed with brain tumor in December 1850--the weakening symptoms of which had appeared a little earlier: in October 1848 she complained of headaches. By that time the nervous illness she had contracted in 1839 developed into a more or less chronic depression, on which she had reported the following in one of the last entries (for 26 February 1841) in her Journal:
My mind slumbers & my heart is dull--Is life quite over? Have the storms and wrecks of the last years destroyed my intellect, my imagination, my capacity of invention--What am I become? (The journals of Mary Shelley, 1814-1844, Shelley M 1987ii: 572, apud Jamison 1994: 231)
She died in London on the 1st of February, 1851, thus no longer being able to complete her project of writing William Godwin's Memoirs (as noted above, her father had died in 1836). She was buried in St. Peter's, Bournemouth.
In the final period of her life she traveled to Italy twice with her son, Percy Florence, whom she had the joy of seeing graduate from Cambridge University.
Posthumously, in 1959, Mary Shelley's Matilda was published, a novella that she had completed in 1819 and which has a taboo theme: a father's incestuous relationship with his daughter (this text had been suppressed by William Godwin, and so it remained unpublished for 140 years). Mary Shelley's casual writings were also published well into the 20the century:
--Paula R. Feldman and Diana Scott-Kilvert edited The journals of Mary Shelley, 1814-1844 in 1987, in 2 volumes.
--Betty T. Bennett edited The letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley in 3 volumes, published, respectively, in 1980, 1983, and 1988, as well as Selected letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, published in 1995. Therewith came to light hundreds of letters that had never before seen the light of print, and thus new insights are possible into the very core of Mary Shelley's universe, both the biographical and the fictional-artistic.
Mary Shelley's short stories, on the other hand, have long been neglected, having been for the first time collected only in 1891 by Richard Garnet: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Tales and Stories, now first collected with an Introduction by Richard Garnett, London: William Paterson & Co. Only 55 copies of this volume were printed back in 1891, and several reprints were undertaken, e.g. by Folcroft Library Editions, Folcroft, Pa., in 1976; Norwood Editions, Norwood, Pa., 1977; R. West, Philadelphia, 1978; and Nabu Press, 2010. Now this significant part of Mary Shelley's works attracts more and more critical attention due primarily to its connections with Frankenstein by which more light is shed on the enigma of the latter, but also because in the short prose Mary Shelley reworks the Gothic in a personal way, just as she had done it before in Frankenstein, where she "relocated" the usually static centers of horror (which were traditionally present in castles or enchanted forests, etc., as has been mentioned), removing them "from the setting to the body of the Monster itself." The result was in Frankenstein the creation of a fictional "portable horror" in the person of the Creature, an itinerant center of horror. This fundamental shift by relocation is considered by some critics to be Mary Shelley's major contribution to the Gothic (Snodgrass 2005: 316).
Johanna Russ wrote an introduction to a new edition (published in 1975) of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Tales and Stories, Boston: Gregg Press. Seven of the tales have been reprinted in 1990, in Betty T. Bennett, Charles E. Robinson, eds., The Mary Shelley reader: containing Frankenstein, Mathilda, Tales and Stories, Essays and Reviews, and Letters, New York: Oxford University Press. This is the best anthology of Mary Shelley's works available, which contains, besides the seven short stories, the 1818 edition of Frankenstein, the novella Mathilda (1959), eight essays and reviews (never before republished since their initial publication), and eleven letters.
The way to Frankenstein
To understand how the tales are deeply connected with Frankenstein, a short look at a few representative will suffice.
In the short story Roger Dodsworth: The Reanimated Englishman (1826), which originated from a popular hoax about a would-be resuscitation back to life, Mary Shelley tells the history of a man who was found in a glacier and was brought back to life. In the fragmentary Valerius; the Reanimated Roman, she elaborates on the story of a body that was reborn without its soul. In The Mourner (1830) she explores the question of monstrosity, the doppelganger motif (which, some critics believe, is a major motif in Frankenstein, the Creature-Monster-Daemon being nothing but Victor's double, an example of "the doppelganger archetype"; cf. Bomarito 2006, vol. 3: 321), and the complex of family relations. In the Gothic fairy tale Transformation (1831) she relates the story of an ill-shapen Satanic dwarf who exchanges identities with a vengeful dissipated young man, while in the tale The Mortal Immortal (1833) she recounts the story of an alchemist's disciple struggling to understand immortality (Punter & Byron 2004: 165) and the consequences arising from its being (maybe imperfectly) conquered by human mortals.
In Roger Dodsworth: The Re-animated Englishman, Mary Shelley is thus interested in the question of reanimation, as in Frankenstein, while in Valerius; the Reanimated Roman she alludes to the question if life is possible (at least in a primitive form) in the absence of a soul, in the subtext the question being whether the Frankensteinian Creature had in fact a soul. In Transformation she analyzes the possibility that the soul travels from a body to another, yet again possibly in order to answer the question where the soul, if he had any, of the Frankensteinian Daemon came from--maybe from a Satanic source--just as Hamlet asked himself about the nature of his dead father's Ghost.
In The Mortal Immortal, Mary Shelley extends her Frankensteinian vision with a hero who just reaches the age of 323. In the subtext the question lingers: a scientifically remorseless Victor Frankenstein, who had been looking for immortality in scientific terms, imperfectly reaching immortality or only prolonging his own life could be catastrophic: in this case he could have had so much more time to change his mind to create or not to create more Frankensteinian children, males and females, themselves potentially immortal.
Ironically, an ominous example had been provided by Konrad Dippel from Castle Frankenstein who had worried his readers when he announced in 1733 that he had discovered a formula for extending his own life until 1801--when he were to have reached the age of 135 years--, only to be found dead (probably by being poisoned, since part of his face had a blue coloration) in 1734, within a year of his startling announcement (Florescu 1999: 86).
Mary Shelley's Mortal Immortal is an ambiguous demi-godly / demi-human figure (a "half dust, half deity" hero, as Lord Byron created in Manfred), who seems to have reached an imperfect kind of immortality, since he discovered a gray hair on his 323rd anniversary, that might, however, have been lying there concealed for the past three centuries--a mark of decay. He meditates:
To have drained half the Elixir of Immortality is but to be half immortal--my For-ever is thus truncated and null. / But again, who shall number the years of the half of eternity? I often try to imagine by what rule the infinite may be divided. Sometimes I fancy age advancing upon me. One gray hair I have found. (Shelley M 2012: 22)
More than that, the Mortal Immortal found a way to test his deathless nature:
[A]n expedition, which mortal frame can never survive, even endued with the youth and strength that inhabits mine. Thus I shall put my immortality to the test, and rest for ever--or return, the wonder and benefactor of the human species. (Shelley M 2012: 22)
This is, again, a Frankensteinian dream: the initial purpose of Victor to become a benefactor of mankind by discovering the principle of eternal life in the physical frame. The Mortal Immortal thus explains why he wrote down his story for the future generations before embarking on his adventure that should, among others, lead him to the Poles (as is the case also in Frankenstein):
Before I go, a miserable vanity has caused me to pen these pages. I would not die, and leave no name behind. Three centuries have passed since I quaffed the fatal beverage: another year shall not elapse before, encountering gigantic dangers--warring with the powers of frost in their home--beset by famine, toil, and tempest--I yield this body, too tenacious a cage for a soul which thirsts for freedom, to the destructive elements of air and water--or, if I survive, my name shall be recorded as one of the most famous among the sons of men; and, my task achieved. I shall adopt more resolute means, and, by scattering and annihilating the atoms that compose my frame, set at liberty the life imprisoned within, and so cruelly prevented from soaring from this dim earth to a sphere more congenial to its immortal essence. (Shelley M 2012: 22-23)
Mary Shelley's best-known book, Frankenstein; or, The modern Prometheus (1818), is a philosophical-prophetic Gothic-romantic novel in the line of works such as Faust, Prometheus Unbound, The Brothers Karamazov, and Middlemarch (Fisch, Mellor, Schor 1993: 3), but also such as Paradise Lost, The Tempest, King Richard III, Alastor. [Richard Garnett (1891: VI-VII) pointed to two literary antecedents of Frankenstein's daemon: Caliban in William Shakespeare's The Tempest, although Caliban is seen as having been "too self-sufficing in his valour and his villainy to be deeply pitied"; and Richard III, in Shakespeare's King Richard III, although this hero is considered as having been "too senseless and brutal." Likewise, Garnett (1891: VII) sees most of Victor Hugo's work as a "conscious or unconscious variation on the original theme of Frankenstein"]
Frankenstein is also regarded as an "inaugural" science fiction novel (Bloom 2007: 7), published earlier even than the at least sixteen texts contributed to the genre by Edgar Allan Poe, of which Eureka is the most prominent (see Harold Beaver's memorable edition of 1976). In this work, the early influences in Mary Shelley's intellectual education are visible: her familiarity with Scottish myths and legends populated by various creatures (of which monstrous humanoids caught her attention vividly); her interest in the mysterious and supernatural aspects of Scottish culture, which included phenomena like raising spirits of departed people; her interest in occult knowledge; her preference for Spenser, Sidney, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth (the latter visited the Godwin residence, and so did Humphrey Davy, the famous English chemist), Coleridge, Southey, Byron and the myth of Prometheus (inherited via her father's inclinations towards Greek and Latin classic culture and towards history in general); her love of Percy (whose portrait as the poet of Prometheus Unbound, according to Harold Bloom, may be traced in some measure in Henry Clerval), in whom Mary saw the impersonation of her parents' radical views; etc.
Harold Bloom places the importance of the novel in its being at the intersection between the Romantic and the Gothic:
What makes Frankenstein an important book [...] is that it contains one of the most vivid versions we have of the Romantic mythology of the self, one that resembles Blake's Book of Urizen, Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, and Byron's Manfred among others. (Bloom 1965: 215; see also Bloom 1965b: 611-618; apud Williams 1995: 176-177)
Frankenstein recounts the horrible consequences of a radical scientific action by which man, trying to substitute God, artificially creates another human being, a new Adam. Through it, as Bloom (2007: 7) insightfully observed, Mary Shelley gave a "powerful, implicit critique of the Romantic Prometheanism of her husband and the radical rationalism of her parents," the Daemon in the story having "a tragic splendor," while Victor Frankenstein, although representing a "great Hermetic scientist," is "the true monster of the novel," "at most a figure of pathos." (Bloom 2007: 9)
Let the legend begin: Castle Frankenstein and beyond
The origin of this important cultural icon and archetype is traced back by Harold Bloom (2007: 18) thus:
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was born of a waking nightmare she had on June 16, 1816. It was a vision so intense that it produced one of the most powerful horror stories in Western literature, a story that assumed mythic dimensions as it addressed profound implications concerning man's understanding of his place in the world and the consequences of transgressing against God and Nature. At the time Frankenstein was first conceived, Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley were living outside Geneva at the Maison Chapuis, a cottage on the water at Cologny, and were visitors at the nearby Villa Diodati where Lord Byron, Claire Clairmont, and Byron's physician, John Polidori, were living at the time. During the course of several days in June, the group was kept indoors by incessant rainfall. One evening, while they were sitting around reading some ghost stories, they each agreed to write their own horror tale. For several days, Mary tried to imagine such a story, but failed to come up with one. However, following a discussion between Shelley and Byron concerning galvanism and Erasmus Darwin, Mary fell into a reverie in which she saw "the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together," namely, a hideous corpse that he had reanimated with a "spark of life." She finally had her ghost story.
Bloom's reference to "the pale student of unhallowed arts" is a quotation from Mary Shelley's Introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein. This memorable passage deserves to be quoted fully:
I saw--with shut eyes, but acute mental vision,--I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handywork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade; that this thing, which had received such imperfect animation, would subside into dead matter; and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench for ever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life. He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains, and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes. / I opened mine in terror. The idea so possessed my mind, that a thrill of fear ran through me, and I wished to exchange the ghastly image of my fancy for the realities around. I see them still; the very room, the dark parquet, the closed shutters, with the moonlight struggling through, and the sense I had that the glassy lake and white high Alps were beyond. I could not so easily get rid of my hideous phantom; still it haunted me. I must try to think of something else. I recurred to my ghost story,--my tiresome unlucky ghost story! O! if I could only contrive one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night! (Shelley M 1831: X-XI. See also Morrison & Stone 2003: 157)
The discussion between Lord Byron and Percy Shelley mentioned above was mainly on the principle of life, as Mary Shelley confessed in her Introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein:
Many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley, to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated. They talked of the experiments of Dr. Darwin, (I speak not of what the Doctor really did, or said that he did, but, as more to my purpose, of what was then spoken of as having been done by him,) who preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case, till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion. Not thus, after all, would life be given. Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth. (Shelley M 1831: IX-X)
Mary described the state of her mind when the idea of Frankenstein came to her as a totally overwhelming event, a veritable "Eureka act," in Arthur Koestler's terms:
My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. [...] Swift as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me. "I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow." On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story. I began that day with the words, It was on a dreary night of November, making only a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream. (Shelley M 1831: X-XI)
Creativity thus conceived of entails deep authenticity: whatever thrills the writer will thrill also his readers, but if this effect of emotional "ignition" does not take place in the very act of artistic creation (writing the story in this case), then in vain would any creator expect from his audience to feel such when reading a work that in its making did not emotionally overpower its creator with awe, dread, horror, joy, exuberance, or any other intense human feelings. In short, with Mary Shelley artistic creation is about "igniting" one's psyche into experience unbound.
The ghost stories referred to that constituted an initial influence for Mary--and for the others involved in the literary contest--were from a German collection of tales translated into French by J. B. B. Eyries under the title Fantasmagoriana (1812), and published a year later in England under the title Tales of the Dead (1813) (Botting 1996: 66). In her Introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, Mary pointed to Fantasmagoriana, explaining that this collection triggered in Lord Byron the idea that the group (Mary, Byron, Percy, and Polidori) should have a literary contest:
"We will each write a ghost story," said Lord Byron. (Shelley M 1998: 7)
As mentioned, Lord Byron wrote a story that was published at the end of his volume entitled Mazeppa, in 1819 (this story bears the title A Fragment, it is dated "June 17, 1816," and it is eleven pages long; Byron 1819: 59-69); Polidori wrote The Vampyre (1819) (basing his story on Byron's A Fragment from Mazeppa); and Percy began a poem grounded in his early life (Morrison & Stone 2003: 157). Radu Florescu (1999: 115) underlines that in fact Percy did write his Fragment of a Ghost Story, in which a grandmother sees a ghost made up of ashes.
The name of her hero and the general theme of the novel, however, might have sprung in Mary's imagination in fact as an elaborate consequence of a trip by boat she and Percy had undertaken in the direction of a medieval fortress known as Castle Frankenstein, located on the Rhine, in 1814 (they covered the portion of the river between Mannheim and Mainz; cf. Florescu 1999: 15-16). Some critics see in Victor Frankenstein Mary's version of the Byronic hero, essentially characterized, among others, by undeterred ambition, which can be distorted into obsession, and by destructive passion and unresolvable guilt (Morrison & Stone 2003: 157).
It appears that Castle Frankenstein was in ruins at the time of Mary and Percy's visit, and formerly it had been the birthplace of a certain Konrad Dippel (1673-1734), a physician, natural philosopher, alchemist, chemist, necromancer and theologian (author of some 70 books), who was famous for experiments with corpses (Kamm 1997: 495). Local folklore (conveyed also by important people of the region such as the mayor of Nieder-Beerbach in the 1970s, Eric Naut; cf. Florescu 1999: 65) has it in fact that a young English lady and a man visited the castle and its surroundings at the beginning of the 19th century, and as a consequence the two, presumably Mary and Percy Shelley, became quite familiar with Johann Konrad Dippel's legendary story according to which he had discovered the secret of how to convert metals into gold and the secret of immortality, the principle of life, experiments having been carried out surely in the scientific laboratories created in the castle itself and possibly also at a vast mansion (which had been owned by Dippel's brother, Heinrich Adam, also a physician), now known as Dippelshof or Dippel's inn (also possibly visited by the Shelleys), located in the village of Traisa, very near to the small village called Nieder-Beerbach, at the foot of Castle Frankenstein (Florescu 1999: 17). (Allegedly, Dippel's conversion of metals into gold happened in 1701, when he mixed 50 parts of silver and mercury with the philosopher's stone thus obtaining pure gold. However, the legend goes, because Dippel used the gold for himself to buy his own large estate--thus breaking a rule of alchemists never to use the gold for themselves--he was to be punished: the jar containing the formula he had been working hard for years to create was broken, and the philosopher's stone was irretrievably lost; cf. Florescu 1999: 80).
Martin Garrett (2002: 13-14) mentioned (in the entry for "September, 1814") this possible (seemingly unplanned) visit:
On the morning of 2 (Fri) they reach Mannheim. Unfavourable wind forces their boat to moor overnight at Gernsheim. [Mary] and [Percy] walk for three hours. Conceivably they see Castle Frankenstein in the distance and hear some of the legends associated with Konrad Dippel, who was interested in the reanimation of corpses.
In another rare reference to this mysterious castle, offered in Snodgrass (2005: 128)--the entry for "Frankenstein's laboratory"--we read the following:
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley sets the work sessions of Frankenstein (1818) in a laboratory in Ingolstadt, Germany, a spot she may have adapted from Burg Frankenstein, a castle built in 1250 near Darmstadt, Germany, and the home of Johann Konrad Dippel, a legendary early 18th-century alchemist and body snatcher. The writing took place before dissection and surgery gained respectability, the absence of which forces Victor Frankenstein to conceal his endeavors. Against advice to stick to pure science, he labors for two years to discover a method of passing the spark of life into a shape assembled from oddments culled from numerous corpses. He describes his solitary work station as "a cell, at the top of the house, and separated from all the other apartments by a gallery and staircase." Applying Gothic forebodings to the story, Shelley emphasizes the severe isolation by which Victor pursues his hellish inquiry and the increasing agitation that drives him to create life.
It is still a matter of debate how much Mary Shelley knew about the legendary German feudal barons Frankenstein, who are believed to have inhabited, in the early Middle Ages (ca. the 13th century, 1250), Castle Frankenstein, located on top of Magnet Mountain (Germ. "Magnetberg") in the close vicinity of Darmstadt, the state of Hesse, Germany. Radu Florescu explored the question regarding whether Mary Shelley heard in fact during her visit in the region about the curse that destroyed three brothers in the Frankenstein family in the 16th century, and about the fact that Castle Frankenstein (which in Florescu's eyes looked, in 1973, when he visited the place, very much like Dracula's notorious fortress; Florescu 1999: 16-17) was the place where the ill-famed alchemist Konrad Dippel had been born and where he was to carry out his demonic chemical transmutations, the entire history of the castle being wrapped up in the local legends that disclose a general belief the place and its surroundings had been centers of alchemy and necromancy (Florescu 1999: 16-17).
Furthermore, Radu Florescu observed that no clues exist in Mary's Letters and Journal or Claire Clairmont's Journal to reveal their visit to the legndary Castle Frankenstein and their familiarity with its historical horizon steeped in mystery. The two stepsisters seem to have been keeping secrets when this was necessary for them. In this sense, there is a baffling enigma: practically all the entries for the entire crucial period of the summertime of 1816 (June and early July) have vanished not only from Mary's Journal, but also from Claire's Journal--as stressed above in order to underline the possible "conspiracy of silence" established between the two sisters--as Florescu suggested. The possible visit to Castle Frankenstein on the 2nd (Friday) and/or 3rd (Saturday) of September 1814 is not mentioned in either of the diaries kept by Mary and Claire (Florescu 1999: 18, 59), in the context in which the two chief towers of Castle Frankenstein are dominating the hillside, being even today visible with the naked eye from the outskirts of Gernsheim, which the Shelley group without a doubt visited in 1814 (Claire mentioned in her Journal the town of "Gernsheum," where she went shopping with Percy on the 2nd of September) (Florescu 1999: 59-61). As evidence in this sense two elements are singled out:
1) A highly relevant passage in Frankenstein where Victor says the following:
We travelled at the time of the vintage [i.e. September], and heard the song of the labourers as we glided down the stream. (apud Florescu 1999: 62)
Given Mary Shelley's "fiction out of chaos" narrative theory, this might be an autobiographical indication that Mary and Percy indeed heard songs telling of the legends related to the Frankensteins.
2) An entry in John Polidori's Diary, where he relates the passage from Mannheim to Mainz:
Arrived at Mayence at 6%. Saw along the Rhine many fine old castles. (cf. Rossetti 1911: 87; apud Florescu 1999: 96)
More than that, Dippel's entire career as an alchemist, chemist and physician resembles the career of Mary's Genevese "pale student of unhallowed arts" (see Florescu 1999: 77-78). In this sense, for instance, it is documented that at one point Dippel claimed to have found an "Arcanum chymicum," a "chemical secret," and he was willing to sell it to the Landgrave of Hesse in exchange for the very domains of Castle Frankenstein, which had been sold to the house of Hesse-Darmstadt. Even if the deal did not materialize in the end, this whole affair proved that Dippel was deeply steeped in occult, "unhallowed arts," and was willing to gain material wealth by them, maybe in order to achieve the title of "Lord of Frankenstein" (Florescu 1999: 85). Also, just as Dippel never disclosed his formula in the end, so Mary does not tell us anything about the formula used by Victor to create his artificial man (see Florescu 1999: 92 for more parallels between the two heroes's lives).
Otherwise, the Shelleys are most likely to have come across the name of Castle Frankenstein because they read the Edinburgh Review, in which oftentimes stories were related about the Darmstadt circle, whose notorious members and visitors (like the princess Louisa of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the future queen of Prussia; and Goethe) spent weekends at Castle Frankenstein. Florescu (1999: 90-91) stressed out in this sense that a volume often read by the Darmstadt group was precisely Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, which is mentioned in Frankenstein as a book essential for the Daemon's education.
On the other hand, another source for Mary's initial inspiration to write the Frankenstein saga was one of Erasmus Darwin's special experiments, in which he is believed to have animated a piece of vermicelli: the experiment is mentioned by Mary herself in her 1831 Introduction, as mentioned above. Also, Mary may have become familiar with a tale about a Knight Georg von Frankenstein--who killed a dragon-monster at Castle Frankenstein--that the Brothers Grimm published in 1816 (Florescu 1999: 34; 271-273).
Percy goaded Mary Shelley to expand her story into a novel and to extend her studies in the direction required by the future novel. Being both interested in radical science, Percy and Mary went together to lectures on this subject in London. Further on, Mary began extending her literary efforts, using as sources for Frankenstein works such as the following (see also Morrison & Stone 2003: 157-158):
1) J. J. Rousseau's Emile (1762).
2) Sir Humphrey Davy's Elements of chemical philosophy (1812). (For details on Davy's "too mercurial" temperament and personality, which so fascinated Lord Byron--who "engaged in animated dinner conversations with him about volcanoes and gases"--, but also P. B. Shelley and Mary Shelley, who consulted the work mentioned above at the time she was in the process of writing Frankenstein, see Jamison 2004: 231ff)
3) John Milton's Paradise Lost.
4) John Locke's works.
5) William Shakespeare's plays.
6) Edward Gibbon's The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788).
7) William Godwin's An enquiry concerning political justice, and its influence on general virtue and happiness (1793): what influenced Mary most from this political treatise is the demonstration that character is generated by circumstance (Punter & Byron 2004: 120), a view that later the romantic John Keats was to incorporate into his theory about how souls are created unique by gaining their identity through a unique sequence of imprints that the initial "atoms of perception," or intellectual "sparks" or "intelligences," receive via the agency of personal experience--this individual experience is fundamentally determined by a unique set of conditions surrounding it, that is to say, in Keatsian terms, by a unique "world of Circumstances" (cf. John Keats's famous "Vale of Soul-Making"; for details, see Stroe 2011: 365-366).
8) William Godwin's The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794): a gothic novel with dark atmosphere, where Godwin contended that man is the direst enemy of man.
9) William Godwin's St. Leon: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century (1799): an even more genuine gothic novel, where Godwin imagines an alchemist-hero. Like Victor Frankenstein, he is of a Promethean line of descent and, in his quest for the "philosopher's stone," he travels to Transylvania--as was to be the case later also with Bram Stoker's legendary hero (Florescu 1999: 31-32)--and is subsequently sent to prison by the Inquisition. He gains the philosopher's stone from a Wandering Jew character: to be noted that the Monster in Frankenstein becomes "a pariah like the Wandering Jew" (Snodgrass 2005: 126). St. Leon then kills his own servant and is bound in an underground vault, after which he realizes that he longs for the domestic affairs of the normal world he had initially rejected (cf. Punter & Byron 2004: 121).
In addition, Mary read also the Gothic "bluebooks" of Harriet and Sophia Lee, Mary Robinson, and Charlotte Smith, and met for the first time a Gothic classic in Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland (Snodgrass 2005: 315).
In his Discourse (1802), Humphry Davy, a friend of William Godwin's, was of the opinion that the power of chemistry rests in its being the underlying principle of all life. The chemist in this view was able to alter the natural world, being "a master, active with his own instruments." (cf Mellor 1989: 93, apud Jansson 1999: IX, n. 5)
Erasmus Darwin, on the other hand, in Zoonomia (1793) and Phytologia (1800) was interested in the natural processes of creation and regeneration, and not in Humphry Davy's interventionist "language of control" (cf. Jansson 1999: IX), which in the last analysis is related to Francis Bacon's idea that man is supposed to tame nature and submit it to his will like an alchemist of sorts, who can better nature by perfecting more quickly what nature does in so very long periods of time (for instance, the long gestation of metals in the womb of the Earth is sped up by alchemists with a view to obtaining the alchemical gold, the perfect metal, quite swiftly). The whole novel Frankenstein thus embraces Erasmus Darwin's "non-interventionist" philosophy, by pointing out the catastrophe which is imminent if man embraces the idea that science must be a "master," such as Davy's chemical view implies, and such as postulated by the Baconian paradigm.
The most evident impact on the birth of Frankenstein seems thus to have come from Luigi Galvani's experiments with reanimating dead tissue undertaken in 1791: Galvani used "animal electricity" generated from the brain and transmitted through nerves to the muscles and the other internal organs. These details constitute evidence for the fact that Frankenstein was born in a veritable melting pot of literature-and-science, and from authentic scientific knowledge of the time, as observed by Mellor (1989: 90; apud Jansson 1999: IX).
However, as the subtitle suggests, the myth of Prometheus was also a major impetus, in both its versions:
--Prometheus plasticator (present in Ovid's Metamorphoses), who tries to animate a man of clay.
--Prometheus pyrphorus (present in Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound), who stole the secret of fire from the gods, for which he was punished. (Jansson 1999: XVII, n. 16)
The earlier text of Frankenstein (the first edition of 1818) is moreover much connected with the Luddite disturbances having taken place between 1811 and 1817 (when English mechanicals crashed machines because these threatened to deprive them of their jobs involving manual work) and the Pentridge uprising of 1817 (Paul O'Flinn, cf. Botting 1995, apud Jansson 1999: XVIII-XIX, n. 21). A possible relation of Frankenstein with the 1832 Reform Bill and the 1832 Anatomy Act may also exist, the latter having afforded physicians the right to use the dead bodies of the poor, if unclaimed by any relative, for scientific purposes in experiments; this soon became a reason for vast anxieties and psychological traumas and fears that the poor were being made into victims of scientific progress (Tim Marshall 1995; apud Jansson 1999: XIX-XX).
That Mary Shelley used so many sources for creating her memorable story is consistent with her theory on the matter of invention and discovery:
Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself. In all matters of discovery and invention, even of those that appertain to the imagination, we are continually reminded of the story of Columbus and his egg. Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject, and in the power of moulding and fashioning ideas suggested to it. (Shelley M 1831: IX)
In other words, Mary Shelley embraced a "fiction out of chaos" narrative theory in a context where literature and science were metaphorically "molten" in an alchemical, transformative melting pot bound to lead to masterpieces in the hands of creators who embraced in their lives fully both pain/trauma, but also the zest of life in its daring quest for freedom unbound. Most of Mary Shelley's essential biographical elements presented here point in this direction: that in her early years she was a fervent quester for unlimited freedom and adventure, for experience unbound, regardless how reckless and dangerous this quest really was in the eyes of conventionalized society. Her life was thus stirred by both extreme pain and a "howling" desire to live, to create, to love freely and infinitely, to the point of melting down her own feminine existence into the very ethereal ungraspable body of freedom and its companion joy.
In this sense, Ghiselin (1985: 4) speaks about the necessity of chaos/disorder in creativity, at least in the early stages of creation:
Even to the creator himself, the earliest effort may seem to involve a commerce with disorder. For the creative order, which is an extension of life, is not an elaboration of the established, but a movement beyond the established, or at least a reorganization of it [...]. The first need is therefore to transcend the old order. Before any new order can be defined, the absolute power of the established [...] must be broken. New life comes always from outside our world [...]. This is the reason why, in order to invent, one must yield to the indeterminate within him, or, more precisely, to certain ill-defined impulses which seem to be of the very texture of the ungoverned fullness which John Livingston Lowes calls "the surging chaos of the unexpressed." [...] Creation begins with a vague, even a confused excitement [...].
However, whereas Ghiselin (1985: 4) refers to this chaos/disorder/confusion as being an almost inappropriate term for the "indeterminate fullness and activity of the inner life," Mary Shelley refers to it as being the endless abundance of infinitesimal details (history, culture, civilization, art, science, language, music, etc.) in all human experience, which rush into existence claiming, as it were, our attention and so influencing and even determining our perceptions of the world. In other words, Ghiselin refers to the discrete mechanisms in the "interior of the individual" (the psyche, as one sector of Wilber's quaternary, the latter comprising also the "exterior of the individual," "the interior of the collective" and the "exterior of the collective," and thus defining the whole of reality), manifesting physically in the cerebral activity in the brain (Wilber's "exterior of the individual") which is enhanced in creativity--as keenly described by Andreasen (2006: 77-78):
It is as if the multiple association cortices are communicating back and forth, not in order to integrate associations with sensory or motor input as is often the case, but simply in response to one another. The associations are occurring freely. They are running unchecked, not subject to any of the reality principles that normally govern them. Initially these associations may seem meaningless or unconnected. I would hypothesize that during the creative process the brain begins by disorganizing, making links between shadowy forms of objects or symbols or words or remembered experiences that have not previously been linked. Out of this disorganization, self-organization eventually emerges and takes over in the brain. The result is a completely new and original thing: a mathematical function, a symphony, or a poem.
Describing thus extraordinary creativity, Nancy Andreasen coincidentally probed deep also into the mechanisms at the heart of Mary Shelley's narrative theory: a melting pot of "shadowy forms of objects," "symbols," "words," and "remembered experiences"--all taken from reality--constitutes the platform on which her literary laboratory is set in such a way as to become a deep incentive towards exuberance. The latter is reached only if the "thrill" of existential and experiential mystery is felt by the creator herself/himself, the "thrill" itself illuminating the encounter between the creator and that mystery, the result being a sort of transcendental channeled perception of the yet unborn creation. In such an awesome process of encountering the "future," Mary Shelley came to see, as through a terror-inspiring veil of vision or prophecy, "the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together." Because the encounter was so haunting, her realization was sudden and definitive: "I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others."
In this same direction of a poetics/narrative theory of confusion/disorder, Lowes (1927) spoke of "the teeming chaos of [Coleridge's] Note Book [that] gives us [...] the charged and electrical atmospheric background of a poet's mind" (apud Ghiselin 1985: 13). Indeed such "teeming chaos" of historical, scientific, literary, poetic and artistic ideas seems to have surrounded Mary Shelley like a haunting aura affording her the rough substance needed in the act of extraordinary creation. Her own life, as that of her husband, had been so hectic and chaotic in her youth (Jamison--1994: 181--speaks in this sense of "the chaos" of Lord Byron's life, very similar to that of the Shelleys) to almost poetically match the narrative "fiction out of chaos" theory she thus envisioned.
Frankenstein, however, is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the whole extent of Mary Shelley's contributions to literature and culture in general. A good summation of this state of affairs is given in Fisch, Mellor, Schor (1993: 7), where "the other Mary Shelley" is presented:
Against the backdrop of the divergent fortunes of Frankenstein and Mary Shelley, a monitory image emerges. Even as Frankenstein has become split off from the corpus of Mary Shelley, another "Mary Shelley," intellectually formidable and remarkably accomplished, is being fashioned from the historical and biographical evidence that surrounds that corpus. What remains to be considered, clearly, is the work "beyond Frankenstein," the corpus of five novels, one novella, dozens of tales, sketches, essays, reviews, and stories, two mythological dramas, five volumes of biographies, two travel books, and extensive notes to Percy Shelley's works.
In short, it is believed that "beyond Frankenstein" Mary Shelley continued her work of criticism in different, but related ways:
Having identified the seventeenth-century scientific revolution with masculine hubris and an imperial colonization of nature in Frankenstein, Mary Shelley turned in her other novels to a critique of imperialism in other cultural forms: military conquest (Valperga, The Last Man, Perkin Warbeck), the exploration of the East (Valperga), the colonization of America (Lodore). (Fisch, Mellor, Schor 1993: 8)
The conclusion arrived at in this context is the following:
[I]f the futurism of Frankenstein has been overemphasized in its many cinematic adaptations, the far-seeing implications of Mary Shelley's corpus as a whole have yet to be fully appreciated. (Fisch, Mellor, Schor 1993: 13)
This is a statement that the present study wishes to underline, with the hope that more insightful research into the matters hereby raised will be soon conducted.
Finally, related to what has been accomplished in Valperga, the following has been observed:
Through Euthanasia and the possibilities she and the castle of Valperga represent, [Mary] Shelley suggests that history need not have progressed as it did: Castruccio could have chosen the female Romantic ideology, as did Guinigi. But of course he chose to become a tyrant, becoming enmeshed in the violence of Italian politics, exiling hundreds of Lucchese families, resorting to judicial murdering, and even attempting to assassinate Robert of Naples. Euthanasia rejoices she has had the strength to choose duty over love: that she had broken off her engagement to the enemy of her country. (Lew 1993: 174)
Similarly, the following has been noted on Lodore:
Lodore and Falkner attempt to alter marital despotism from the inside: that is, from within the literary and social conventions that cause women to desire marriage and thereby circumscribe their fates. On the literary front, this includes altering the sentimental novel, the marriage plot, the happily-ever-after of an end in marriage, and the forms of semblance ascribed to "polite" society. On the social front, it entails reforming family and the higher classes. In the understated ways that these novels take on these conventions, they get down to the hard work of re/form. [...] Lodore makes clear that a daughter's happiness in marriage depends on her getting out from under the influence of her forebears. (Carlson 2007:121-122)
The "other" Mary Shelley, the one beyond Frankenstein, is just as much involved in her quest to beat down any restrictions to human freedom, which lastly lead to traumas of all kinds. The zest for freedom (also of expression, artistic or otherwise), under whose energy lies the exuberance of life itself, is thus the key element in reading Mary Shelley: writing fiction out of chaos becomes, in the general melting pot of civilization and in the special melting pot of literature and science, a way to live, a way to deal with the pain and suffering inherent in existence itself--and especially inherent in the total experience of the kind the Shelley circle embraced. This, in the final analysis, is to be understood as Mary Shelley's "royal" way towards unburying the potentially infinite reservoirs of joy, happiness and exuberance in creation unfettered if the quest is authentic. If the creator feels, in the act of creation, with all his/her being, the shiver, the wonder, the surprise, the awe, the terror, the joy, the sublime, the mystery, the lowest low of grief, the highest high of exuberance, of human emotion, intertwined with a deep knowledge of real existence, then and only then will he/she have the power to, as it were, open the gates that lead to creation that lasts. Such iconic creation, in Mary Shelley's acceptation, can only proceed by freely flowing from the inner most secret realms of the human psyche, when and only when the latter tapped into the reservoirs of "chaos"--the dense ethereal networks of historical and experiential knowledge; when and only when the soul fused with emotion unbound.
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Mihai A. Stroe
University of Bucharest
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|Title Annotation:||The creative process|
|Author:||Stroe, Mihai A.|
|Publication:||Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2013|
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|Next Article:||Constructing group identity.|