Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley began writing “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus” when she was eighteen years old, two years after she’d become pregnant with her first child, a baby she did not name. “Nurse the baby, read,” she had written in her diary, day after day, until the eleventh day: “I awoke in the night to give it suck it appeared to be sleeping so quietly that I would not awake it,” and then, in the morning, “Find my baby dead.” With grief at that loss came a fear of “a fever from the milk.” Her breasts were swollen, inflamed, unsucked; her sleep, too, grew fevered. “Dream 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,” she wrote in her diary. “Awake and find no baby.”
Pregnant again only weeks later, she was likely still nursing her second baby when she started writing “Frankenstein,” and pregnant with her third by the time she finished. She didn’t put her name on her book—she published “Frankenstein” anonymously, in 1818, not least out of a concern that she might lose custody of her children—and she didn’t give her monster a name, either. “This anonymous androdaemon,” one reviewer called it. For the first theatrical production of “Frankenstein,” staged in London in 1823 (by which time the author had given birth to four children, buried three, and lost another unnamed baby to a miscarriage so severe that she nearly died of bleeding that stopped only when her husband had her sit on ice), the monster was listed on the playbill as “––––––.”
“This nameless mode of naming the unnameable is rather good,” Shelley remarked about the creature’s theatrical billing. She herself had no name of her own. Like the creature pieced together from cadavers collected by Victor Frankenstein, her name was an assemblage of parts: the name of her mother, the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, stitched to that of her father, the philosopher William Godwin, grafted onto that of her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, as if Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley were the sum of her relations, bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh, if not the milk of her mother’s milk, since her mother had died eleven days after giving birth to her, mainly too sick to give suck—Awoke and found no mother. [ . . . ]
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Summer is time to hit the cinemas, and plenty of studios put out their biggest movies from May through August. Of course, you have the big tentpole films such as Avengers: Infinity War, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and Mission Impossible: Fallout, and while those get a lot of attention in the US, there are plenty of British films that will be coming out as well. Featuring romantic stories, horrific tales, and the lives of some of England’s greatest authors, Summer 2018 has at least five British films we know you’re going to want to see.
Fiona Sampson gives the ‘Frankenstein’ author’s hard life a compelling immediacy
For 200 years, the freewheeling, chaotic lives of the Romantic poets, replete with sexual emancipation, elopement, teenage pregnancies and tragic death, have provided biographers with abundant riches. Mary Shelley’s illustrious parentage – her mother was the pioneering feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, and her father political philosopher William Godwin – combined with her own literary achievements has ensured that her life is more comprehensively documented than most women of the era. In the latest addition to this canon, In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein, writer and poet Fiona Sampson points out: “It is the daughter of those famous thinkers that Percy [Bysshe Shelley] has fallen in love with.”
Sampson, who was editor of Poetry Review from 2005 to 2012, and is professor of poetry at the University of Roehampton, has an infectious curiosity for her subject and explores her life using motifs from literature, music and art. Astonishing scenes are laid before the reader in the manner of vivid tableaux: Mary, aged eight, hiding behind the sofa with her half-sister and begging to be allowed stay up late to hear Coleridge read to the end of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; Mary, aged 16, sick and pregnant, lying in a boat with her head resting on Shelley’s chest as a storm rages around them. A born outsider whose arrival killed her brilliant mother, her childhood anxieties prompt a letter from her father, sent from Dublin, assuring her that he has no intention of giving her away.
Adopting an unconventional approach, Sampson writes in the vernacular and uses the present tense: “Building a life together isn’t heat of the moment stuff,” she remarks of Mary’s early months with Shelley. Mary is “four months gone” in pregnancy. They live “hand-to-mouth”. Mary is Shelley’s “enabler”. Her father is “a failure with the ladies” and “comes on heavily” to one. The celebrated sojourn at the Villa Diodati, which culminated in Frankenstein, is described as a “sleep-over”.
Although this might grate, such accessible language gives Sampson’s writing a compelling immediacy. Eyewitness accounts, letters and journal extracts are woven seamlessly into her narrative, while capsule biographies and historical detail provide context. On occasion, she indulges in unfettered speculation, exploring Continue reading