Happy Birthday Mary Shelley!

Coming up this very weekend is a day I’ve always wanted to be celebrated as an international holiday. It’s not, though, for whatever asinine reason, (that’s not swearing; its fancy vocabulary) so instead I’ll simply write a glowing review here and hope my excitement proves catching, or at least not as lonely as I feel it is right now. This August 30 marks the 218th birthday of one Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.

1857 Portrait of Mary Shelley by Reginald Easton. Courtesy of Wikipedia

1857 Portrait of Mary Shelley by Reginald Easton. Courtesy of Wikipedia

This chick rocks all kinds of socks off. For one thing, she comes from a cool family. She was born Mary Wollstonecraft, named after her mother. The original Mary Wollstonecraft was a feminist way back when feminism was probably considered a mental disorder by most. She was all “Hey, maybe woman shouldn’t have to live their lives defined by how they serve their man. They could actually be smart and talented enough to, you know, do stuff for themselves…” and everyone thought it was a very funny joke until they realized she was serious and steered clear of that lady for a while. Wollstonecraft enjoyed what many would’ve considered an “edgy” sex life at the time, meaning she had a number of unconventional relationships, wasn’t married to all of them and gave Mary Shelley a half sister, Fanny Imlay.
Mary Shelley also had the fortune of hanging out with some truly spectacular friends, friends that definitely had a hand in helping here writing reach its full potential. She famously wrote Frankenstein while she, Percy Shelley (her soon to be husband), Lord Byron and John Polidori and dear old Fanny Imlaywere all having a contest about who could tell the scariest story and tripping balls from copious amounts of wine and laudanum (aka opium you could buy from a pharmacist.) Okay, that last fact is probably less famous than the rest of this famous “scary story contest” story is it’s but nonetheless true. Look it up. I did and it turns out those Victorian types knew how to party.
Finally, Mary started writing Frankenstein at 19 and had it published when she was 21. As amazing as that is for her, I still get a bit queasy thinking about it. I’m 21 right now and, as far as I know, have not published a novel that will be required reading in high schools centuries from now.I mean, I like to think I could’ve written a novel by now if I had the courage to uninstall Candy Crush from my phone permanently, but not necessarily one worthy of the standard  literary canon. You know your doing a really good job when people in your age range start sweating and asking if you could chill for a second.
If I can’t match her accomplishment, though, I can certainly critique it. On to the review portion of this entry. I read Frankenstein for my personal enjoyment before having to read it in class, and on the whole found it a very enjoyable read. For a fair and balanced review though, I will say you might enjoy it more if you understood Victorian style and custom better. Right now, I’m thinking of how my sister complained that every time something exciting happened, the doctor would fall ill and get fevered and delirious with emotion over what his hands hath wrought, and so it took forever to get to the “good parts”. Yes, classical literature can be paced a bit slower than the popular books of today, but the real gems never make this different place a burden. Frankenstein is certainly one of those gems, in my humble opinion.
Reflecting one’s overcome emotional state with physical distress was the thing to do in Victorian literature.  As we must fashionably swoon over realizing we accidentally ate gluten, so they had to swoon over receiving an especially devastating love letter or realizing they have triumphed over death by creating an undead monster. Learn about these things before you call a book stupid, my darling beloved sister. It might lead to, say, your loving older sister attempting to shame you in her blog for dumping on one of her favorite books. Now where were we? Oh yes, the book…
I myself found the book very compelling, though not scary. Thrilling and tragic yes, but never terrifying. I felt far too much sympathy for Frankenstein’s monster to view him as, well, a monster. You see, unlike the hulking green oaf popularized by the movies, Frankenstein actually became very well spoken and well read after his creation, resulting in impassioned dialogues with Dr. Frankenstein and himself about how his life can truly mean anything if he exists outside of mankind and is hated by his very creator. It all makes him a much more sympathetic character than the big green guy yelling “Fire Baaaaad,” no matter how much I enjoyed Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
The way Frankenstein leads reader through this dialogue about what it means to be, or to make a human creates that excellent sort of dialogue top-notch horror and sci-fi does, making people question things they never thought of before.So snatch up the chance to celebrate Mary Shelley’s birthday this weekend, and perhaps have an early Halloween by ready the book or, even better, telling scary stories with your friends long into the night. Copious amounts of booze and laudanum, not to mention the creation of a famous work of literature, are optional.

One thought on “Happy Birthday Mary Shelley!

  1. Pingback: Mind-Melding with Felicia Day | my life our books

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