Friday, August 30, 2019

Happy Birthday Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley. Reginald Easton(d.1893) Courtesy of The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Shelly relics(d).
We all emotionally connect with the monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. We have all been lonely at times and felt like an outcast. Though we care about the hero of the story, Victor Frankenstein, and his innocent bride and family members, we all are also concerned about the bad guy, the monster. The way he looks is not his fault, he didn’t ask to be born.
Great writing is timeless. Without question, Mary Shelley was a great writer. She tells the story through letters a sea captain/scientist writes to his sister about a man they rescued. Writing in first person through these letters allows the suspense to steadily build into a nail-biting intensity as Victor Frankenstein’s remarkable and horrid tale is unveiled. Her writing is also fabulous due to the emotion she embeds in it. Mary Shelley pulled from her own raw pain to write that emotion. The authors of Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Picture of Dorian Gray all drew from their own intense pain to create those masterpieces.
Mary transferred the loss and guilt she felt over her mother’s death into Frankenstein. Her mother was famous, Mary Wollestonecraft was the leading feminist of her day, the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, published in 1792. She died eleven days after giving birth to Mary due to complications from the birth. Mary Wollestonecraft was a believer in free love and had one daughter, Fanny, born out of wedlock from an affair with an American. She only married for the good of her unborn child, Mary, when she was four months pregnant. Upon her death her two daughters were raised by her new husband, Mary’s father, William Godwin, a famous journalist, philosopher and novelist. Mary gained a step-mother when her father remarried when she was four. The woman had two children from a previous marriage, but she did not treat Mary or Fanny like her own children. She did not even allow Fanny or Mary to go to school although her own children did. It has been said she showed feelings of jealousy toward Mary. Mary was educated at home by a governess and she spent much of her childhood alone, reading at her mother’s grave.
Mary was further outcast when at 16 she fell in love with a married man, the famous poet, Percy Shelley. Mary became pregnant and her father refused to help her. Mary gave birth seven months into her first pregnancy and the premature baby died shortly after. She and Percy faced ostracism and constant debt. Mary and Percy left for Geneva in 1816 to spend the summer with Lord Byron. That is where she wrote Frankenstein. More heartache came to Mary when she and Percy returned to England and both her haft-sister, Fanny and Percy’s wife, Harriet, committed suicide.
So a baby whose mother dies due to complications from the birth grows into a lonely, outcast child often reading alone by the grave of a mother she never knew. She then grows into a teenager who has an affair with a married man, loses her first child shortly after giving birth and has to deal with the suicidal deaths of her lover’s wife and her mother’s only other daughter. It’s easy to see the similarities between Mary’s life and the story of Frankenstein.
The guilt, pain, and shock Mary carried contributed to her creation of Frankenstein. It’s the raw pain of the author that makes the story so great and so timeless. This pain, this intense emotion transferred from Mary into the characters of Frankenstein and his monster is what makes the story real to us. The emotion creates an unbreakable connection between us and the characters.