It’s 2019. It’s almost the 2nd month of 2019. But while it’s still month number one, we do what we want, we watch what we want. And this week we take a trip 200ish years into the past with a brilliant writer and real-life heroine.
An examination of the events in Mary Shelley’s life that led to the creation of her iconic Gothic novel, Frankenstein.
Mary Shelley (née Godwin), like your average teen, likes to hang out around her mother’s grave and invent creepy ghost stories for her siblings.
Since the death of her famous mother, Mary’s father William Godwin, a philosopher in his own right, has remarried. Her stepmother (aka Anna from Downton Abbey) despises Mary and her distracted, creative mind, and the two are frequently at odds. After an especially contentious fight, Mary is unceremoniously sent off to live in Scotland with a radical philosopher and his family.
Though miserable, things are looking up when Mary befriends one of the daughters of the family,
Arya Stark Isabel. They bond over their interest in all things occult and the desire to summon the ghosts of their deceased mothers. You know, teen stuff. The two pass the time enjoyably enough until Percy Shelley arrives on the literal winds of change. Significant stares are exchanged. Repartee is traded.
Unfortunately, a blossoming new romance grinds to a halt when Mary receives the news that her stepsister Claire is gravely ill. Mary rushes to her side only to discover, rather than being at death’s door, Claire has been desperately bored.
Luckily, Percy is a massive fanboy when it comes to Mary’s parents, and it doesn’t take much convincing for her father to take him on as a protégé. From then on, it’s secret notes, hanging out in graveyards, getting caught in the rain, and drinking sacramental wine.
However, it’s sort of a buzzkill when Percy’s wife and daughter arrive on the scene, bursting Mary’s bubble. Having been raised with her radical parents’ ideas, Mary is all for free love and embracing an unconventional lifestyle. Her father is decidedly not ok with this and cuts her off when she runs away with Percy, bringing Claire along for the ride.
Unsurprisingly, being young, poor, and in love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Percy can’t get anyone to publish his work, yet insists on throwing elaborate dinner parties for his sleazy friends. Meanwhile, Mary is expecting and worried about her baby’s future.
Predictably, the creditors come. Forced to flee on a cold, rainy evening, Mary’s newborn baby is not long for this world.
Meanwhile, Claire has news of her own: after meeting the infamous Lord Byron during a night out a the theater, she became immediately pregnant after he looked at her. /Also she’s been having an affair with him for the past few months. Interpreting a letter from Byron as an invitation to visit, Claire and the gang head off for a month-long binge and general drunkenness and debauchery.
All of this is leading to that famous weekend that produced those Gothic masterpieces, Shelley’s Frankenstein and John Polidori’s The Vampyre. Throughout all of this, I should mention, Byron predictably acts like a bag of dicks. Percy isn’t much better, though John is sweet if a doormat.
After drafting her most famous work, Mary struggles with finding a publisher. Eventually, she is able to publish anonymously on the condition that Percy writes an introduction…which means everyone in the world will think he is the writer.
Frustrated and hurt, Mary’s relationship with Percy deteriorates and her career as a writer seems over before it’s begun. We all know she will ultimately become one of the most important English writers, period…but how will she get there with the odds stacked against her?
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
I am always up for a period drama. And–no surprise–Elle Fanning is brilliant as ever. However, as a whole this film fell somewhat flat for me. I get that a successful writer’s life does involve a lot of scenes that wouldn’t be exceptionally thrilling onscreen. But Mary comes across as such a boring person at times; I wish we had gotten inside of her brain a bit more to explore her brilliance.
Most of the time, we are focused on Mary and Percy’s relationship angst. And, admittedly, a lot of the Romantics were probably huge douchebags, but Percy doesn’t come across looking great here. From what I remember, Percy was supportive of Mary’s writing and never tried to claim credit for her work (though people did assume Frankenstein was his work).
The film also makes the odd choice of quoting from Percy’s poetry A LOT. I understand the choice to use Percy’s words as Mary finds her voice as a writer, but it really got under my skin. Remember Bright Star, which featured so much beautiful Keats poetry because it was a film ABOUT Keats? This film is ABOUT Mary Shelley, so her words should take priority over Percy’s…unlike, you know, that thing all of those 19th century dudes were taken to task for IN THIS FILM.