200 years on from the genesis of Frankenstein – Part 3

200 years on from the genesis of Frankenstein – Notes on July and August 1816 in Cologny, on the shores of Lake Geneva.


3. The light and the dark.

In August the group on lake Geneva were visited by ‘The Monk’ Lewis. His nickname is a reference to his famous scandalous gothic horror story, with bleeding a nun spectre, dungeons, witchcraft torture and seduction. He told them ‘mysteries of his trade’ and they ‘talk of ghosts.’ Lewis told them four ghost stories.

Lord Byron in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers wrote of Monk Lewis: ”Even Satan’s self with thee might dread to dwell, And in thy skull discern a deeper hell.”

Mary Shelley was not always part of the audience, because her ‘little babe’ was not well, though Shelley discussed it all with her later. Mary was a very fond mother and when away on trips would write ‘“I longed to see my pretty babe”. The ‘little babe’ was William, just over six months old. Critics have always found it odd that Mary also named Victor Frankenstein’s young brother William, in her story, especially as she had him strangled by the Creature. A horribly prophetic inclusion.

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200 years on from the genesis of Frankenstein – Part 2

200 years on from the genesis of Frankenstein – Notes on July and August 1816 in Cologny, on the shores of Lake Geneva.


2. Celebration and secrets.

In that eventful August while Mary was beginning to write ‘her ‘story,’ the others in the group on the lake had a secret. Claire, Mary’s stepsister, told Shelley that she was pregnant to Byron and Shelley tried to negotiate with Byron on her behalf. Byron had already begun to hate Claire and was not prepared to commit to anything, so Shelley quietly made a new will with provision for Claire and her child. He did not tell Mary of the situation immediately because he knew she would be angry, and neither could foresee just how badly it would affect all their lives.

When Shelley had his 24th birthday on 4th August, Mary bought him a telescope and they celebrated with a boat trip on Lake Geneva, during which Mary read to him from Virgil (a 19C Roman poet). Ah, how romantic … before the next bombs landed.

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200 years on from the genesis of Frankenstein – Part 1

200 years on from the genesis of Frankenstein – Summer 1816 in Cologny, on the shores of Lake Geneva


1.Ghost Story Challenge

It was the ‘Year Without a Summer’. Endlessly dark, stormy and apocalyptic. Byron threw out a ghost story challenge and Mary conceived Frankenstein.

It is some weeks later before Mary first refers to ‘writing her story’. During this time she and Shelley and sometimes Claire were exploring the Swiss mountains. As the weather improved they set off on mules to climb to Montanvert one of the large glaciers that forms the Mer de Glace (the Ice Sea), in the Chamonix Valley. In her journal Mary called it ‘the most desolate place in the world’. Mary used the setting in chapter ten of Frankenstein, where Frankenstein first encounters the Creature, his now independent creation, ‘bounding over the crevices of ice’ with ‘superhuman speed’…

“The ascent is precipitous, but the path is cut into continual and short windings, which enable you to surmount the perpendicularity of the mountain. It is a scene terrifically desolate. In a thousand spots the traces of the winter avalanche may be perceived, where trees lie broken and strewed on the ground, some entirely destroyed, others bent, leaning upon the jutting rocks of the mountain or transversely upon other trees… The surface (of the glacier) was very uneven, rising like the waves of a troubled sea, descending low, and interspersed by rifts that sink deep” – Mary Shelley. Frankenstein.

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Australian Society of Authors

asa logo

I feel privileged to be joining the Board of The Australian Society of Authors at the AGM on Saturday.
It is the peak body which does great work supporting authors in many ways as well as campaigning on their behalf.

Currently they are asking for support to fight the government’s proposal to allow the parallel importation of books.

You can read about the issues and sign the petition HERE

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Lovely to be a guest at two bookclubs last week and share my enthusiasm about Mary Shelley with such interested and interesting readers!

Thank you Fran and Sharon, organisers of the clubs in Thirroul and Roseville.

I LOVE visiting bookclubs and am always happy to be asked. (Have even participated via Skype!)

I have been thinking of putting together book club questions…Any readers out there have any ideas? I’d love to hear them! Please feel free to post your ideas in the comments section below.

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Have politicians ever got anything right?

alexander-berryMary Shelley wrote to her pioneering relation Alexander Berry in New South Wales (husband of Mary’s cousin nee Elizabeth Wollstonecraft) on June 30th 1848:

Dear Mr. Berry, You are very good to write me such long and really interesting letters. You live, you say, a hermit life – but your writing has all the vivacity of youth – and shows the deep interest you take in your Country and its welfare. A Colony – where one can at once perceive the operation of the social norms – presents a wide field for inquiry and the acquisition of knowledge. At the same time there is melancholy attached to it – the melancholy spectacle of misgovernment. This is particularly mortifying in the cases such men as Sir George Gipps and Lord Grey – for they mean well, while they do so much mischief. We boast of our improved lights – and our books overflow with philosophical principles, yet our public men perpetually make the grossest mistakes, and all they do, had better be left undone.

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Valentine’s Day & Love’s Philosophy

Romanticism was at its height from1800 to 1850 and celebrated emotion, individualism and the wonders of nature. For Shelley love was a philosophy and a spiritual calling. The Romantics gave us some of the best love poems, and Shelley wrote this little gem when he was 28 and living in Florence, just after Mary gave birth to their son, Percy Florence. It has often been performed as a song, but here it is beautifully presented by Richard Armitage.

Love’s Philosophy

The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the Ocean,
The winds of Heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
in one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine?-

See the mountains kiss high Heaven
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?

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