June 16, 2016

'The next night, June 16, was even wilder.' ...

... As lightning flashed and the rain poured down, the little party huddled by the fire at the Villa Diodati. To while away the hours, Byron read aloud from an old volume of ghost stories that he had found in the villa. Although everyone was agreeably frightened by these tales, Byron grew frustrated. At last he threw the book down. They needed something new, something more terrible, he declared:  everyone should write a ghost story, and then they would select a winner. He was confident that he could easily triumph over Shelley; he never considered the talents of Polidori or the two women.
      That night everyone slept at the Villa Diodati; it was too stormy for the Shelley party to venture back down the path. When they returned home the next day, Mary tried to focus on writing her story while Elise [the maid] watched William [Mary's son], but whether she had immediate success is not clear, as there is so much mythology about what happened next.
      In later years, Mary said that it took her a long time to come up with an idea, and that when the idea did arrive, it came in the form of a nightmare:

I saw -- with shut eyes, but acute mental vision -- I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantom of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion.

      ... These are her own words, and so on the face of it there seems little reason to question her account of her story's genesis -- except that both Shelley and Polidori had a different version of what happened and both men were writing closer to the time. ... Even though [Polidori] was often unreliable, with Mary he was usually spot-on, and in his journal, he records that everyone except himself got right down to work. He makes no mention of any difficulties on Mary's part, casting doubt on her version, since if she were having trouble, it seems likely that he would have noticed, given his obsessive surveillance of her daily activities. ...
      Accordingly, Mary's story about the composition of Frankenstein is probably just that, a story, a fiction tacked on to her larger fiction, another layer in a many-layered book. ...
from Romantic Outlaws:  the extraordinary lives of Mary Wollstonecraft
and her daughter Mary Shelley
, by Charlotte Gordon

I'm so sorry that I didn't get far enough in Frankenstein to join my reading friends today, but I will ... it did take Mary Shelley {she was only 19!} months and months to finish it, and in the meantime, there were these, two lives that fiction can't hold a candle to. :)

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