The Many Faces of FRANKENSTEIN

Because 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein,* articles about Mary Shelley and her famous novel are popping up everywhere. Having spent years studying Shelley, almost five writing my novel about her, I read them warily. You could say I know too much.

Today, Lit Hub Weekly pointed me to a piece titled “My Odious Handiwork,” by Ed Simon. In the very first paragraph, Simon says Mary eloped to Europe with Shelley at eighteen, which is incorrect—the couple ran off to France two years earlier, shortly before Mary’s sixteenth birthday. The same paragraph claims Mary began writing her novel late in 1816. Actually, she started it in June, during the summer Mary and Shelley famously hung out with Lord Byron on Lake Geneva.

Despite the errors in Simon’s open, I like what he says about Frankenstein—that it is not about science, but art. “Frankenstein is about the writing of Frankenstein,” he suggests.

Mary’s novel is in fact one of the most interpreted, written-about works of literature in the world. Frankenstein has been described as a metaphor for the French Revolution, an allegory for the Christian story, and an expression of Shelley’s maternal guilt and/or postpartum depression, to name a few. That Frankenstein can be read in so many ways explains its 200-year endurance.

My own novel, My Life with Shelley, is “about” many things—including, at its heart, what it means to be a mother—but it’s also about making art, as my modern-day protagonist Grace Zacharias struggles to follow through on her cherished dream to write Mary Shelley’s imagined autobiography while learning to walk again after an immobilizing accident.

Early in my narrative, Grace lies in an MRI suite, wondering what Mary would think about a machine capable of scanning the human body, painlessly, to opera music. As Grace drifts into sleep, she imagines the moment of creation Mary described in her 1831 introduction—the watery, speculative eyes of the monster opening to her one night in a dream.

Yes, Grace muses, when Mary described Victor’s Frankenstein’s euphoria of creation, she was writing what she knew. I know it, too. After a life of creativity myself, I found constructing a full-length novel more satisfying than even the very best quilt I’ve ever made.

*Actually, Mary received her author copies on a bitterly cold December 31, 1817.

5 Responses

  1. Brian Downes
    | Reply

    I know a bit about what it means to be a mother. So I’m guessing your story will be a universal one.

  2. Valerie Fons
    | Reply

    Thank you for sharing with us that writing is for you more satisfying than the quilting you are known for. Throughout your quilting career you have generously shared instruction, inspiration, and integrity with the world. Your passion and connection with Mary Shelley has not abated. So excited about your novel and and your personal/professional capabilities for sharing her story.

    I remember your blog — Story Torch — you are carrying the story torch for Mary Shelley.

  3. Jan Dunn
    | Reply

    Absolutely Inspiring!!! This is what life is about . . . unveiling bits of what we might be capable of accomplishing and fulfilling one’s human potential.

  4. searingly
    | Reply

    Verу nice article, exactly what I wanted to find.

  5. Jan Sturtevant
    | Reply

    I’m envious of Grace–my long-ago MRI sounded like a war zone with guns going off everywhere. And no earplugs! I’m reading all your blog posts from the beginning and enjoying them immensly. As I go, I’m compiling a reading list from your “book reports.”

    I have mixed feelings, as a fellow English lit MA-er and a quilter, about your feelings about quilting vs writing accomplishments. I did loads of needlepoint in my youth: I was thrilled with the un-delayed gratification of quilting (no hand quilting involved, however). I’ve done a bit of writing, but not recently. The last time I started a writing project I decided it was too much work and quit. Not proud of that, but oh well.

    All this is to say I admire you tremendously for LOQ–which I now watch religiously–as well as all your many and excellent contributions to our quilting community. (I like the LOQ episodes with you, and you and Mary the best.) I also greatly admire your perseverance with your writing, especially since I have an inkling of how hard it is, and how rewarding.

    Brava Marianne!

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