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Beyond Frankenstein—Mary Shelley’s Literary Successes

The tragedy of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is that, despite having one of the most famous horror stories of all time, her other work is virtually unknown. Her other two novels, aside from Frankenstein, were actually strange and unique in their own way—keep reading to learn more about the roads Mary Shelley paved for the literary community.

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818)

Shelley’s first and most notorious novel was started when she was still a teenager, in 1816, at age 18. Female writers around the world, myself included, are grateful for her contribution to literature, even though she published initial additions anonymously when she was twenty in London in 1818. Her name didn’t actually appear on the publication until the second edition was published in Paris in 1821.

Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus

What is incredible about this book is not just that it was written by a teenager, or that it was written by a woman, but that it was written by a woman from the perspective of a young male scientist. This story arose from her travels through Europe in 1815 while she traveled along the Rhine in Germany. Eleven miles away from what is considered Frankenstein Castle, where two centuries before her visit a mad alchemist conducted various experiments. She continued her travels across Geneva, Switzerland—which was also used as a setting for much of the novel. Shelley and her traveling companions had incredibly controversial conversations that ranged from the occult to galvanism—this of course was around the time that Luigi Galvani was conducting his experiments with his frog galvanoscope.

The legend of how Shelley came up with her idea of this particular novel tells us that Shelley and her traveling companions, most all of them writers, decided to have a contest amongst themselves. They wanted to challenge each other and see, who among them could create the most engaging, terrifying, and outrageous horror story. Initially stumped by the prompt, Shelly thought upon the topic for days until she finally had a dream that would inspire her to write the story of a scientist who created life, only to be horrified by his own creation.

The story of Victor Frankenstein was rather controversial due to the idea of Galvani’s technology and what his experiments meant for the scientific community at the time. So, Shelley portrays Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist as a man pursuing knowledge that lies in the unorthodox, blasphemous fields of secrets yet-to-be-told. Life and death are uncertainties in this story, when Victor creates a sapient creature, one constructed from the pilfered parts of those who have died.

Galvani’s experiments gave the scientific community a lot of ideas about reanimation after death and also launched experimental medical treatments using electricity to cure diseases that were incurable at the time. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the process that Luigi Galvani used to achieve this ground-breaking discovery about electrical impulses and the nerve system, there are a few YouTubers who decided to replicate the experiment. Enjoy!

The Last Man (1826)

Shelley’s novel The Last Man is an unusual topic for the time during which it arose; originally published in 1826, this book envisions a future Earth—set in the late twenty-first century—that is ravaged by plague and unknown pandemic. It harbors the eery scene of a planet in the throes of apocalypse, where society has degraded to a dystopian nightmare, amidst the ravages of an unchecked and unknowable plague that blankets the globe.

The Last Man

In order to write this particular novel, Shelley spent time sitting in meetings of the House of Commons in order to have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of a Romantic Era political system. As such, she created another first in literature—dystopian apocalyptic visions of the future within the writing community. Due to the insanely new concept of a dystopic world, her novel was suppressed by the literary community at large, as it was a wholly nightmarish idea at the time. It was almost considered prophecy and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the novel resurfaced to the public where it was clearly understood to be a work of fiction.

Mathilda (1959)

Mathilda is one of those books that, if it had been published during Shelley’s lifetime, it might have created another scandal for Mary Shelley—as such her second long work, despite having been written between August 1819 and February 1820, wasn’t published until 1959, well after Shelley’s death. While this isn’t a horror novel, it does provide some insight into the dark and depressed mind of Shelley following the death of two of her children. Their deaths in 1818 and 1819 respectively caused Mary Shelley to distance herself emotionally and sexually from her husband which was an incredible hardship on their marriage.

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The plot of this particular novel dealt with a common theme found in Romance Era novels—incest and suicide, this novel in particular was the narrative of a father’s incestuous love for his daughter. Now you may be thinking—that’s disgusting! And by today’s standards of familial relationships and romantic relationships, you would be correct.

Mathilda tells her story from her deathbed, having barely lived to her twenties, in order to tell the story of her darkest secrets that have led her to such a young demise. She confesses the truth of her isolated upbringing which leads to the ultimate begrudging truth of her emotional withdrawal and inevitable, secluded death. She never names her father, who confesses his incestuous love for her—his confession fuels his decision to commit suicide by drowning.

Index of Sources

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Duology of the Damned: Part 01 – When the Sickness Reached Alaska

Snowed in Cabin
Photography by Laurent Perren

I woke up to the unsettling caw of a raven sitting in a tree near my window. I could feel the sweat that had built up on my forehead overnight and I was feeling greasy, but the prospect of what I had to do this morning grated on my nerves. I rolled over on my other side, having decided to give myself a few more hours to improve my mood. The moment I closed my eyes I fell back into the dreary embrace of blackness.

I was already pulling my boots on when I realized that it had snowed overnight. Again. A glance out of the back window of my cabin revealed the heavily snow-laden trees, they bowed in submission to the densely packed wet slush that persisted despite the climbing temperatures. The quiet stillness that came with a fresh blanket of snow provided an unflappable peace. There was a certain appeal to the idea that Mother Nature cared just as much about the affairs of men as I did. I wrapped the rough brown-dyed moose leather ties around my second mukluk and secured it, right before my annoyingly devoted husky pushed her face underneath into my armpit and flung my arm upward to tell me what time it was.

I set her kibble in front of her, she plopped down, wrapped her front paws around the silver bowl, and began to eat it daintily; it had taken me almost two years to teach her how to be a lady at chow time. Hash-browns and eggs hit the hot skillet with a loud sizzle, I was counting on those extra carbs to give me a bit of a boost of energy today, it was still frigid outdoors and I had a lot to do. A shovel full of the wet snow felt as heavy as lead and the next hour proved to exacerbate my sciatica, but it was the combination of painfully numb fingertips and the sweat running down my back that was the most unpleasant aspect of it all. Nevertheless, if I wanted to get out of my driveway, I needed to clear enough space to give myself a running start out onto the unplowed road.

My stark white pup, Scottie, had begun to run circles around me, her joyful frolic in the fresh snow had not quite come to an end. This was her favorite time of year, she was built for this weather, and then she disappeared into a large pile of snow and reemerged with a goofy, tongue-lolled-out smile.  I stuck the shovel upright into one of the snow berms I had built up and started up my Jeep to warm the engine—that was Scottie’s cue and she knew we were going to town before I could even make it back to the house for my wallet and coat. She was already sittin’ purdy in front of the door.

I stopped on the top step, kicked my mukluks together, and snow fell off in wet clumps. A chickadee caught my eye, as it flew past my head and landed on a nearby branch, then my line of sight was drawn to my neighbors’ cabins. They had been oddly quiet today, each of their cabins had their respective car or truck parked in front when they would normally have been gone by that point. I hadn’t seen them going in or out of their cabin all day either, and I couldn’t see tracks in the fresh snow around their houses and that was strange, to say the least. Then again, I guess it wasn’t any of my business.

I knew the drive out to the main road wasn’t going to be a picnic, but I just needed to get out of that cabin. So today, Scottie and I were going to indulge in our favorite pastime of watching The Price is Right whenever we could make it to the bar by the time they opened their doors in the morning—I had been told that today would be the last day it would be open for at least two months while the rest of the city slept in quarantine. I didn’t understand why they were closing all sit-in establishments, why couldn’t people just wash their damn hands and stay home if they were sick? One bad apple… or something like that. So, this was officially the last chance I would have where I could get out of the house for more than just some colas and toilet paper for a while. I was going to take full advantage of it if I could. 

Cabin fever was a bitch and sitting at home with nowhere to go would be fine for a while, but it was only tolerable if there were brief punctuations of exposure to the outside world. It was barely 10 in the morning, the bar had just opened its doors and somehow the same five regulars were already there for coffee and our morning ritual of the boob tube. Delicate white flakes of snow drifted down from the grey sky when I pulled into the parking lot of the dull red riverboat-turned-bar.

Scottie slipped through my legs into our favorite dive bar as soon as I opened the door and then she made her rounds to greet her favorite people. Her favorite people being the ones who offered her the dog biscuits that were kept behind the bar. When Scottie finally came back around, I had my coffee in front of me and the sound of Johnny Olson’s trademarked, “come on down!” was coming in clear over the cacophony of applause and theme song. Gary, to my left, passed me the local paper once he was done with it and there it was. The headline struck me abruptly; my heart inched further and further up my throat.

MANHATTAN OVERRUN

I swallowed down the lump in my throat and I set the paper aside, because ignorance is bliss, at least for now. A bubbly older woman on the television was bobbing up and down on the balls of her feet as she leaned in to spin the huge wheel for the Showcase Showdown; I threw back the rest of my now cold coffee and fended off the bartender’s attempt to refill my cup.

“I’ll be back later with Trudy,” I mentioned in passing before I pulled my Carhartt jacket on over my sweater, the bartender smiled and waved as Scottie and I opened the door to leave. I had a date with an old lady and a shopping cart, so I knew I would get an earful of the latest news on what was happening in the world from Trudy soon enough. Worrying too much about the headlines right now would just make my mood worse—no need to ruminate.

 I loaded Scottie into the back of my Jeep and in no time at all, we were cautiously pulling into Trudy’s driveway. I popped my head in through her front door to let her know I was there, then came the inevitable shoveling of snow to clear her driveway enough for her to get through to my Jeep without too much difficulty. Tiny Trudy appeared at her front door just as I finished creating a path for her and I held out a hand to her, so I could help her down the rickety stairs. Her frail form moved agonizingly slow over the slick black ice near her door. Her cleated boots made no difference in consideration of her near weightless state. The drive was quiet, except for her unceasing country music and her tar-coated lungs wheezing with each breath. The store was startlingly barren, the panic still hadn’t subsided it seemed—Trudy’s normal complaints had gone into overdrive.

“There’s no toilet paper, honey!” She wheezed indignantly, her creaky voice announced both her dissatisfaction and her disbelief. Once she saw the headlines of the scandal sheets, she broke into a brief political tangent. I could tell that she didn’t quite get the panic that had overtaken people—but then again, did any of us understand it? Trudy wasn’t incredibly worried about the pandemic, she was eighty-seven years old, a life-long smoker, and had lived through the pipeline days. If she hadn’t croaked yet, then she wasn’t going to start worrying about it now—she didn’t see the reason for being concerned about “a little fever and breathing problems,” she had told me, “—I’ve already gotten my flu shot!” I had to be careful not to let my eyeballs roll straight out of my head. Her logic always seemed to take me by surprise, but I wasn’t going to complain, after all, I was all she had during the winter.

By the time I sat down at the bar for the second time that day all of the regulars except for Gary had gone. Frail and wispy Trudy, surprisingly, could still get up into the tall squishy blue barstools that towered over her and she settled in. She ordered herself a Carolans and coffee, then paid for another coffee for me—the bartender was always happy to see Trudy, but the gloom over the patrons of the bar was palpably different than when I had been there earlier. I didn’t honestly think much of it until Eeyore incarnate began speaking to me. 

“The end is fucking nigh,” Gary muttered and leaned awkwardly to one side, he hadn’t moved seats from this morning, but it was clear he was already three sheets to the wind. I figured that he must have been mulling over that headline for the past few hours; I watched him sink into his third beer since Trudy and I had arrived. Gary was always a glass-half-empty kind of person so it was pointless to try to cheer him up, but considering I was already dealing with cranky little Trudy, it wasn’t high on my priority list, to begin with.

I must have been letting the alarm of the general population of this small city get to me—or was that sweat gathering on his greying brow? It was too chilly to be sweating. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Gary wasn’t being the normal whiny drunk he was known to be. My thoughts were disturbed by a violent outburst of coughing from Gary who was looking paler by the minute, I was sincerely glad Trudy and I had decided to sit on the opposite end of the bar from him. The last thing I needed was for 87-year-old Trudy to catch the virus that had just been announced on a national level.

“Gary, you might want to think about heading home,” I projected over the low buzz of the conversations of the other patrons. I cast a look at the bartender and then gestured to Trudy, at my side, with my eyes. The bartender nodded, you could see her anxiety even behind her practiced smile—the bartender walked off to use the phone to call a cab for Gary. There was no way anyone in this bar would want to drive Gary home; it’s not that they didn’t want him to get home safely they just didn’t want to do it themselves. Why was he even here in the first place? Was he trying to get people sick, or was he unaware of just how ill he was? 

It was probably too late by that time, Gary had probably already exposed us all to the virus—there were rumors that it was airborne, but the first cases only popped up within the last couple of days and so far all we knew is that some of them were already in the ICU. No one had recovered from it yet, but if it was anything like any other new virus, surely it would take at least a couple of weeks to see what recovery looked like. Regardless, I was worried about Trudy being exposed to whatever Gary was coughing up, so when his cab finally came and he bumbled drunkenly out of the bar the rest of us were able to breathe a little easier.

It took an hour, but I was finally able to convince Trudy to let me take her home. I must emphasize how relieving that was, mostly because I wanted to go home and Scottie was still waiting in the car. She made it down the slick, ice-patched stairs with a little help—but, something was wrong. I just realized that Scottie was barking at something on the other side of the car and that wasn’t like her at all. Scottie noticed us and her barks immediately turned to whines, but I couldn’t see through the dark tint of the back windows. I loaded Trudy into the car, she was so neatly tucked into her fluffy down winter coat. She reminded me of that scene with Ralphie’s little brother from A Christmas Story, where the mom wraps Randy up in so many layers that he’s incapable of moving his body.

I rounded the back of the car, keys in hand; that’s when I realized Gary was slumped against the back driver’s side door of my Jeep, “Gary—what in the hell are you doing?” Gary sounded like his words were garbled—and he groaned, he looked even more pale and green than he had before if that was even possible. Gary lurched forward, swiped his arms as if reaching for me, and upon sidestepping out of his way, he landed firmly on the ground. Gary didn’t waste any time though, he crawled back toward me and tried to grab my ankles this time. That raspy growl would stay with me forever, turned into a half scream as Gary began to rise to his feet and come at me once again. I opened the driver’s side door, jumped in, and slammed it just in time to put a barrier between Gary and us. With a closer look, I could see that his eyes were red and completely vacant.

“What is it, honey?” Trudy was exasperated, her eyesight was fading, her hearing wasn’t what it used to be. I weighed the decision if I should tell her what just happened—better not for right now. 

Walking in a blizzard
Photography by Zac Durant

“Nothing Trudy, we’re just going to get you home.” I tried to sound nonchalant but what had just happened truly freaked me out, Trudy didn’t need to know. She didn’t leave the house without me anyway, so what good would it do her to worry? The news hadn’t reported on this though, it only talked about major panics in smaller towns. When we finally pulled into her driveway we had passed at least a half dozen wrecks on the side of the road and I could tell that they weren’t just due to slick and slushy roads.

Her neighborhood was quiet, I helped her to her front door and proceeded to unload the groceries for her. Once I joined her inside I saw that she was already sitting in her favorite rocking chair smoking a cigarette in the garage. I resigned to put the groceries away, took out her trash, and then said my goodbyes. I didn’t feel right leaving her there on her own, but she never opened the door for anyone else and I needed to find out what was going on. Scottie had hopped into the front seat and was waiting for me when I slid back into the driver’s seat and we were on our way back home. Maybe the local news would give me an idea of what was going on, the paper had been vague at best, what I had seen with Gary had to be newsworthy, but Manhattan was over four thousand miles away, how could whatever that was be happening here?

The road that led to my driveway was still unplowed when I drove back through and my brakes made an audible creak as I slowed to a stop in my driveway. There was a heaviness in my chest that couldn’t be alleviated by coming home, it didn’t feel like my usual home-coming, no relief from being in public, no, indeed the stress lingered. I turned my car off, gave my pup a gentle pat on her back, then began to climb out onto my hard-packed driveway. That’s when I heard the strange sirens coming down my dead-end road and a few strange military-looking vehicles stopped directly in front of my neighbor’s cabin. Soldiers with guns quickly made a perimeter and two people in Hazmat suits stood behind their line. I stood there, awestruck—Scottie, took me by surprise when she jumped down in front of me, her hackles were up.

“Miss, get inside now!” One of the soldiers shouted at me, that’s when my neighbor Rachel emerged from her cabin across the way, against my better judgment I took a step toward the soldiers and Rachel’s cabin—I couldn’t tell if her eyes looked like Gary’s but, her movements sure mimicked what I had seen in the parking lot at the bar. “MISS, I SAID GET INSIDE!” The soldier barked at me again, I hesitantly took a couple of steps back, then signaled for Scottie to go to the cabin. Except… I couldn’t look away, I needed to know what was going on.

Rachel had begun to scream and growl before she lunged at the closest soldier and took a chunk out of his neck—holy shit.

If you liked this installment of Duology of the Damned, then check out Part 02 — The Monster Inside of Me

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Fight For Your Life

Photography by Adam Wilson
Photography by Adam Wilson

Fight if that’s necessary, but run if you can, just so long as you run together. The words of Louis L’Amour echoed in her mind, she had lost so many companions already, it felt like a bad joke. She wiped the residue from her sweaty face with her charred sleeve, there was heat radiating from the building that lay in fiery ruin in front of her. She was alone now. Who could have known the only thing that would kill the creatures was immense heat? Their dying screeches echoed in the night air, but to Jenna, it was a pleasant sound, a sound that meant that sometime—maybe in the near future—that she might be able to sleep through the night without a white-knuckled grasp on her knife. She stood there in careful contemplation, the glow of the fire reflected off of the sweat that crept down her forehead, the light from the fire and the creatures’ screams were likely to bring more of them around and the last thing she needed was to have to blow up another building.

Jenna tucked her lighter back into her jeans pocket and tugged on her ponytail to make sure it was still tight, tied her loose boot laces and slung her bag back over her shoulder. If she could make it to the edge of the forest, she was sure she would be safe for the night. She turned her back to the rubble behind her and squinted into the dark, the tree-line wasn’t too far away—maybe a five-minute jog. Her heart was still racing with adrenaline, so she hopped down from her perch and took advantage of the high. Running into another one of them didn’t even cross her mind, but all the same, her hand was never more than a few inches away from the handle of her knife as she moved briskly through the remnants of the town of her childhood.

She was near to the old gas station when a motion sensor light went off across the street—her breath caught in her throat and she was thankful that her boots hit the wet pavement softly. She ducked behind a gas pump that was out of commission, her eyes were wide as she stared at the hideous creature that was now attacking the bright light above it. It let out a ghastly screech then there was a shatter when the glass hit the ground and the sound resonated throughout the now abandoned main street. She heard a clatter in the alley behind the gas station and she drew her body in as if trying to make her body as small as possible. Her body was glued to the gas pump, shaking as she drew in shallow breaths, trying to not make a sound in the darkness that now consumed her. Heavy thumps against the pavement were all around her, the handle of her knife in her clammy hand was slick with sweat. The adrenaline once again pulsed throughout her body, she readied herself to run when the gas pump was ripped out from behind her, the sound of metal hitting the ground barely noticeable over her own screams as three creatures overtook her.

Originally published on the Official Blog of Mary Farnstrom.

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The Best Movies About the End of the World

Remember when everybody thought the world would end in 2012? Nearly a decade later and we’re still here, but the terrifying apocalyptic movies will never stop… and we like it that way. These films are the ideal combination of action, suspense, and horror – watching society unravel as the main characters quite literally run for their lives, often to no avail. What would you do if you were simply getting your hair done at the salon, when buildings started to collapse all around you? Is there any imaginable way to escape a natural disaster of this capacity? Answer these questions and get a fix of apocalyptic horror with these top-rated films about the end of the world.

These Final Hours (2015)

These final hours movie poster

If you found out the world was ending, what’s the first thing you would do? Some would say goodbye to their loved ones or chill out with Netflix and good food, but the protagonist in These Final Hours wants to party. And party hard. The film begins in Perth, Australia as an asteroid collides with Earth, with about twelve hours to go until a firestorm reaches the country. James wants to experience the “party to end all parties” before he exits the planet, but things take a unique turn as he meets new people and comes across terrifying things. This is definitely one of the most underrated end-of-the-world thrillers, ever. 

Take Shelter (2011)

Take Shelter movie poster

The end of the world is even more terrifying when it’s all happening inside your head, and that’s exactly what happens to Curtis LaForche in this apocalyptic thriller. He sees raindrops made of oil and swarms of black birds, while nobody else does… and his increasing anxiety and strange behavior begins to cause issues with his job, family, and life. Is he simply going through a rough time period, struggling with mental illness, or foreshadowing a future disaster? You’ll have to watch this Jessica Chastain thriller (her specialty) and find out. 

2012 (2009)

2012 end of the world movie poster

For many years, there were conspiracy theories about the world ending in 2012, as this was the conclusion of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Obviously, it didn’t happen… but we did get a pretty sweet disaster movie out of it. Released in 2009, this film centers around Jackson Curtis and his attempts to save his family from impending doom. And by that, we mean a series of natural disasters that are slowly crumbling the Earth and killing off the population. This film has the ideal combination of action and scares, and you can sleep easy knowing that we all survived the year 2012. 

I Am Legend (2007)

I am legend movie poster

I hope you are enjoying the apocalypse. So what do you do when 90% of the Earth’s population is killed by a virus, while you’re the 1% who lives and the other 9% are terrifying mutants who want to kill you? Ask scientist Robert Neville, who is living a post-apocalyptic life in the ruins of Manhattan. Will Smith gives a breathtaking performance as he tries to survive and find a cure for the virus, while tracking down any fellow survivors and trying not to get attacked by the mutants. As you can imagine, it’s an eventful film!

Children of Men (2006)

Children of men movie poster

The premise of this film is quite simple. Humans have mysteriously become infertile and society is quickly (and not so quietly) dying out. There are less natural disasters and more quiet moments of fear, but Children of Men still has plenty of action. When a woman is believed to be pregnant, it becomes a symbol of hope for society… and the film follows a group of people as they do whatever it takes to stay alive. 

World War Z (2013)

World War Z Movie Poster

Brad Pitt spending a nearly 2 hour movie trying to stop a zombie pandemic, and looking amazing doing it? That’s why you need to watch World War Z. Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a former United Nations agent who is assigned to gather clues about how to stop zombies from taking over the planet – guided by his duty to his job and need to protect his family. This movie is based on the 2006 novel World War Z, which you should also check out! If Brad Pitt can’t make the apocalypse fun who can?

28 Days Later (2002)

28 days later movie poster

This film hits a bit close to home in 2021, as it centers around four individuals trying to rebuild their life after a contagious virus hits and destroys society as they once knew it. Before there was Bird Bo or The Quiet Place, there was 28 Days Later… as this film shows the survivors trying to cope with their losses while avoiding the zombies that could possibly infect them. Among many, many other things. Some critics even say that it revived the zombie genre all the way back in 2002!

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Women in Horror

The Morbid Feminist Voice Behind the First Sci-Fi and Dystopian Apocalyptic Horror Novels

Mary Shelley
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Why on earth would a delicate woman of your stature write about such awful, disturbing, and blasphemous things?

As the daughter of the brilliant feminist Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin as the reformist writer and philosopher William Godwin, Shelley is famously noted for her 1831 introduction to a reprint of Frankenstein. Her explanation that, “it is not singular that, as the daughter of two persons of distinguished literary celebrity, I should very early in life have thought of writing…” shows exactly how significant they were to her self-image.

The Liberating Feminine Voice of Horror

It is genuinely not surprising that the daughter of the renowned mother of the modern feminist movement was a feminist herself. Mary Shelley’s life reflected by the inspiration she took from her mother’s radically forward-thinking when it came to equality on the basis of sex. Her mother’s best-known work, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, lived on through Shelley’s own lifestyle and unstoppable life-force, but how did that translate into her own voice as an author? There is a lot of dialog between scholars as far as interpretations of her motivations behind the wonderfully disturbing work she created in her lifetime. Some suggest that Frankenstein is a horror story of maternity as much as it is about the perils of intellectual hubris.

From the time that Mary ran away with Percy Shelley all through the time she spent writing Frankenstein, Mary was going through maternal horror of her own—she was ceaselessly pregnant, confined, nursing, and then watching her first three children die at young ages. It doesn’t help matters that Shelley’s life was haunted by the fact that her mother died only ten days after Mary was born. Truth be told though, it was unsanitary practices by the attending physician, Dr. Poignand, and not through any fault of Shelley’s. It was Puerperal Fever, caused by doctors moving directly from autopsies to births without any means of sanitation, that took Shelley’s mother from her.

The tragedy of her mother’s death so early on in her life influenced Shelley greatly and losing three of her own children just compounded upon her morbidity. She used this mindset to her advantage though and translated her message of what it felt like to be born without a right to history—for, “what is woman but man without a history…” as Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar stated in The Madwoman in the Attic. We can see Mary Shelley in Frankenstein’s monster, as a creature born without a history, or at least without an unalterable or supported history. Both Shelley and Frankenstein’s creation shared the feeling of being born without a soul, “as a thing, an other, a creature of the second sex,”—for being a woman in the time that Mary Shelley lived was to be a second-class human being.

A Symbol for Early Equality

Shelley can be considered a symbol for both feminism and equality of sexual orientation; a less discussed topic than anything else of her life, there is evidence that shows that Mary sought the company of women after her husband’s death. This is an important topic to mention, as it is signifies the very secretive intimate history of homosexuality and how big of a part it actually played during the Romantic era.

Life From the Bed of a Grave

Writer Sandra Gilbert insists, that Mary Shelley’s, “only real mother was a tombstone,” but she didn’t mean it figuratively—when Mary was a child, her father brought her to the churchyard where her mother was buried and she would continue to visit on her own after that. This became especially true when her father married their next-door-neighbor Mary Jane Clairmont, a woman who could never replace her own mother and who made Shelley’s home life unbearable. In her earliest years, Shelley used, “reading … [as] an act of resurrection,” due to feeling excluded from her father’s household after his marriage. In a sense, it is said that she “read,” or knew her family then determined her sense of self through her mother and father’s literary works. She would endlessly study her mother’s works during her younger years while sitting at her mother’s graveside.

The burden of this type of childhood was also expressed through Mary’s first work when she included a scene wherein Victor Frankenstein visits the cemetery where his father, brother, and bride were buried before leaving Geneva to search for the monstrosity that he had created. “As night approached, I found myself at the entrance of the cemetery … I entered it and approached the tomb which marked their graves … The spirits of the departed seemed to flit around, and to cast a shadow, which was felt but seen not, around the head of the mourner,” where Victor ultimately calls for revenge against his creation, “O Night, and by the spirits that preside over thee, I swear to pursue the daemon … And I call on you, spirits of the dead; and on the wandering ministers of vengeance, to aid and conduct me in my work.” Godwin passed on his idealization of books being a sort of host for the dead, that to read a book by a departed author would be to know them entirely. Then again, Godwin was also fiercely interested in communicating with the dead, another trait that he passed to his daughter through that fateful visit to her mother’s grave.

[The dead] still have their place, where we may visit them, and where, if we dwell in a composed and a quiet spirit, we shall not fail to be conscious of their presence.

William Godwin, Literary Tourism, And the Work of Necromanticism

Necromantic Preoccupations of Her Father

Like father, like daughter; Shelley picked up her father’s proclivity for intrigue in the dead. Godwin often tried to connect his readers to the dead by encouraging the placement of illustrious graves. In his eyes, such a grave would honor them in their place of rest and give both the deceased and their mourners a way to stay on speaking terms, of sorts. He even expressed his desire to do so himself in quite an illustrated manner, when he said, “[he] would have [the dead] … around [his] path, and around [his] bed, and not allow [himself] to hold a more frequent intercourse with the living, than with the good departed.” He meant this of course as a means of conveying his desire to communicate with the dear ones he had lost in his lifetime and not in a sexual context.

The Morbidity of Her Truest Love

Mary may have strayed from that viewpoint in a way, after she was introduced to an impassioned devotee of her father’s, Percy Shelley. The two spent much of their time together at the grave of Mary’s mother, where her father likely believed they were conversing about their reformist ideals. The truth lay a bit beyond that, however, as it was by her mother’s grave that she lost her virginity and pledged herself at sixteen to a twenty-year-old Percy. While it may seem creepy, to Mary the cemetery was more than just a resting place for the dead, she saw it as a place where all of life converged for her.

Learning all of this about Shelley definitely brings us some clarity on how she possessed the wit and imagination to create two new genres within literature—that of Science-Fiction horror, along with the brilliance of the first Apocalyptic Dystopian styles.

Index of Sources