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Literary Inspirations: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

“It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world;

but on that account we shall be more attached to one another.” - Mary Shelley

The cover image on my copy of Frankenstein: Caspar David Friedrich's Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818)

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of my all-time favorite books. Of all the works I’ve studied in English literature classes, I loved it most — perhaps with the exception of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Looking back, this is another pattern I should have picked up on from the beginning…my interest in the literary has always been geared toward the melancholy, the bittersweet, the haunting, and the tragically romantic.

There is an intoxicating allure to the transformative power of creation, and as an artist, I take part in this alchemy every day. But as Frankenstein shows, there are dangerous limits to this pursuit; in channeling the power of creation, we must not lose sight of our humanity, lest our striving for life end in tragedy. Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein sought the key to immortality, but found himself surrounded by death; paradoxically, it is often by embracing our own mortality that we can get the most out of life. The conversations that have sprouted from my own recent investigations of loss and healing have been some of the most fruitful of my life.

Another book on my studio shelf and high on my “to-read” list is The Poet and The Vampyre: The Curse of Byron and the Birth of Literature’s Greatest Monsters, which details how “love affairs, literary rivalries, and the supernatural collide where Lord Byron, the Shelleys, and John Pollidori come together.” I am fascinated by the lives of these literary figures, especially Shelley, and cannot wait to learn more about the truths about her life as a creator fascinated with death.

I also recently watched the 2017 cinematic take on Shelley’s life, Mary Shelley. While the film was critically panned, I personally greatly enjoyed it, as it took an elegant and poetic approach to depicting the passionately volatile relationships of Shelley’s life, evoking the blurring between the personal and the literary. The film was well-received by general audiences if not by critics, but I’m deeply curious to see how its depiction of Shelley’s life compares to historical fact, and The Poet and The Vampyre should be a great source for this.

I’ll end this post with a few more my favorite quotations from Mary Shelley, all of which can be applied to the practice of art:

“There is something at work in my soul, which I do not understand.”

“I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven, for nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose - a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.”

“The beginning is always today.”

“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.”

“The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine.”

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