In the effort to broaden my understanding of the masters of horror, I’ve been dipping into some older work to read and learn more about the evolution of the genre and the people who’ve shaped it.
After finishing off Wake the Hollow by Gary Triana, I might’ve gotten a bit too excited about the prospect of a tryst between Washington Irving and Mary Shelley. I needed to know more, so I did something I don’t normally do (but probably will do more of in the future) which was pick up a biography of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.
So, first thing’s first, to follow up on the Irving/Shelley fanscape I’ve been building in my head: there’s no mention of any hookup between the two authors in The Lady and Her Monsters.
That’s fine. I can keep digging.
(I seriously can’t be the only person going, I COULD SHIP THAT. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section. It’s not exactly OTP material, but I still think its fascinating.)
The Lady and Her Monsters by Roseanne Montillo
What The Lady and Her Monsters did offer was a contextual look at 19th century England, the experiments in galvanism (electrical current applied to the bodies of both animals and people – particularly dead people in the effort to revive them), body snatching, and the advances in anatomical science that influenced Mary Shelly’s magnum opus.
It also takes a look at the group of friends who gathered at Lake Geneva during the “summer of horror”, where Frankenstein – the book – was born. The group in question included Lord Byron, Percy Blysshe Shelley, Robert Polidori, Clair Clairmont (Mary’s sister), and Mary Shelley herself.
I should clarify that in “taking a look at the group”, we get an account of the personalities, trysts, interpersonal issues, and shit talking that went on at the house as these kids hung out and tried to scare the hell out of each other. For further context, there’s also an overview of the influence of life of Mary’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, her father, and her sisters – alongside all of their unfortunate ends.
There’s nothing more grim than real life, as they say: and if a biographical text needed to be interesting, you just need to spend time with these guys because they’ve all got enough notoriety to keep things wildly entertaining.
My biggest takeaway from this is that keeping a diary is an invaluable source for historians when you’re a dead and famous author.
I’ve got a couple of fiction titles on deck for the next little while, but when I grabbed The Lady and Her Monsters from Amazon, I also got a second biography on Mary Shelley called The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein by Dorothy Hoobler. I’m hoping it’ll fill in some of the details I’m missing.
About the Book: The Lady and Her Monsters by Roseanne MontilloThe Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece by Roseanne Montillo
Published by William Morrow on February 5th 2013
Check it out: Goodreads
The truly electric story of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this book—printed with special ink—literally glows in the dark!
Told with the verve and ghoulish fun of a Tim Burton film, The Lady and Her Monsters is a highly entertaining blend of literary history, lore, and early scientific exploration that traces the origins of the greatest horror story of all time–Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Exploring the frightful milieu in which Frankenstein was written, Roseanne Montillo, an exciting new literary talent, recounts how Shelley's Victor Frankenstein mirrored actual scientists of the period. Montillo paints a rich portrait of Shelley and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their contemporaries and their friend Lord Byron. Intellectually curious, they were artists, poets, and philosophers, united in captivation with the occultists and daring scientists risking their reputations and their immortal souls to advance our understanding of human anatomy and medicine.
These remarkable investigations could not be undertaken without the cutthroat grave robbers who prowled cemeteries for a supply of fresh corpses. The newly dead were used for both private and very public autopsies and dissections, as well as the most daring trials of all: attempts at human reanimation through the application of electricity.
Juxtaposing monstrous mechanization and rising industrialism with the sublime beauty and decadence of the legendary Romantics who defined the age, Montillo takes us into a world where poets become legends in salons and boudoirs; where fame-hungry "doctors" conduct shocking performances for rabid, wide-eyed audiences; and where maniacal body snatchers secretly toil in castle dungeons.