Meme: Seven Degrees of Separation

In my short time having this blog,   I’ve discovered my Astro Sis (waves hello to  Digital Dame).  And now, in the wee hours of the morn, I have learnt of my Telepath Sis: LeftyWritey.

This afternoon, while I was procrastinating  taking a break from writing, I went over to Ms. Uppington’s Blog. (All  Things Good) Scrolling down, I came across a post that somehow I’d missed.  She’d written a Meme back at the end of January, and further, she’d Memed me.

So, today I spent some time wondering what little  tidbits to reveal. And just short moments ago,  at 2 a.m. in the morning, I received an email from Ms. Lefty.  Out of the friggin blue, she asks if I know I was Memed a month ago, and am I going to write one?

Um.  Yeah.  I am.

Let’s see…

1.   If I wasn’t aiming to be a full-time writer, I’d want to be a professional researcher of some sort.  Whether it be anthropologist, archeologist, historian, or parapsychologist.  The wonderful thing about writing fiction is I can combine my never-exhausted imagination with my interest in these fields of study.  

2.  I love chess.     Bring it on.

3.   I collect Agatha Christie novels.   Didn’t intentionally set out to, but having discovered  I owned almost all hers in English, and a few in German,  I figured I should get them all.   And that older pulp covers would be fun to get too…

4.  I never go anywhere without a book in my purse.  (except like last week when I ran to Customs to pick up a package and ended up in the waiting room for two hours)

5.  I’m superstitious.  Never open an umbrella inside or walk under ladders.   I figure people must have had some reason for these warnings; and hey, better safe than sorry.

On that same note: I believe in the Sock Fairy and the Pen Fairy.  Really.  They exist.  Buy a new package of socks and see how long it takes before half of ’em disappear.   Now, the Pen Fairy, rather than being an all-out thief like her cousin, always returns the pens.   She just likes to put them back where they never were.  Or, hours later, where they were supposed to be, but weren’t.  

6.   I love Farscape.   Otherwise known as “Crack TV”.   And, like any self-respecting addict, try to hook others.   You want rich storylines filled with complex, realistic characters?  TV episodes filled with drama, laughs, romance, adventure, goofiness all rolled in one?  Just start watc…

7.    I much prefer  old black and white films to modern.   Often feel as though I were born in the wrong time, except I want today’s conveniences and Rights.   So, basically I belong in some alternative historySteampunk novel.

 So.  There.  Done.

I’m not going to Meme people as I’m not sure who’s been tagged already.  But if you feel like procastinating, this is a fun way to do it.   So carry on…

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Mary Wollstonecraft: A Passionate Life

“Nothing contributes so much to tranquilizing the mind as a steady purpose – a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye. “- Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft  was born in London, England on  27 April 1759, the second eldest of six children.   Emotionally neglected by both parents,  she often slept outside her mother’s bedroom to protect  her from Mary’s father when he came home in drunken fits.    Neither parent cared about her education, resulting in Mary only having a few years of schooling. 

From an early age, Mary decided, “I must be independent and earn my own subsistence or be very uncomfortable.”   She escaped home at the age of nineteen and became a companion to a wealthy widow.   In 1783 , with the money she’d earned,  Mary opened a school at Newington Green, outside of London.   Around this time, she penned her first book, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, which advocated independent thought, self-discipline, and rationality.    It was published by Joseph Johnson in 1787.   After informing him of her plans of becoming a full-time writer, he helped Mary find an abode in London. 

There, Mary entered a new world of ideas and intellectual debate.  Invited to Johnson’s afternoon dinners she conversed with other writers, artists, and political revolutionaries.   The liberal Johnson had published works by Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and the mystical poet and painter, William Blake.  Mary fell madly in love with the artist, Henry Fuseli, most famous for his erotic painting, The Nightmare.   Mary was twenty-nine to his forty-seven.  He fascinated her with his  tales of visiting prostitutes and his pornographic drawings.   At a time when proper ladies were supposed to deny their own sexual desires,  Mary welcomed Fuseli speaking to her in such a frank manner.   And not treating her as a fragile doll who shouldn’t hear of such things.  She was devastated when he broke up with her and married one of his models, Sophia Rawlins.

To escape her pain, Mary threw herself into her writing.   The  French Revolution which had begun in 1789 inspired Mary and her circle.  Many believed it would spread to England.  Parliment member, Edmund Burke, condemned the destruction of the French aristocracy in his Reflections on the Revolution in France.  Mary defended the Revolution in Vindication of the Rights of Man.  In 1790, the second printing had her name attached to it, and she became a bonafide heroine to all English supporters of the cause. 

The Revolution with its dreams of liberty inspired many female writers to critique their subservient place in society.  Six weeks later Mary wrote, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.   In it she urged women to fight for their civil and political rights.  She claimed the only difference between men and women stemmed from upbringing rather than biology.   If girls were granted the same education as boys they would be able to find employment and be financially independent.    “I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves. ”  She encouraged women to rise “from the flowery bed, on which they supinely sleep life away.”  The book made Mary one of the most famous women in Europe.

  In 1792  she traveled to France.    The common people had triumphed.  Joie de vivre spilled out through the streets.     Love affairs were encouraged; celibacy denounced as unhealthy and unnatural.  

But for all the mirth, the Revolution was entering a heightened, dangerous phase.  In January 1793, after King Louis XVI was guillotined, England and Spain declared war on France.  Now, in France,  foreigners were looked upon with suspicion.   Rumors  spread of guards arresting people in the middle of the night.  Mary feared for her life and almost  fled the country.  But she had met a new man: American  Gilbert Imlay.

Imlay, born in New Jersey, had fought in the American Revolution, and  now worked in business (much of it shady).   Even though Imlay admitted to having simultaneous relationships with other women, Mary fell deeply in love.  With Imlay, she wrote in her diary,  she experienced orgasms for the first time.  

The happiness did not last.   On a personal level, Imlay began spending much time away on business.  On a global scale, the radical French leader, Robespierre, rose to power and the Terror began.  Thousands of people (including many of Mary’s own friends who had supported the Revolution) were sent to the guillotine.    In October, the British people living in Paris were rounded up.   Luckily,  Imlay had registered Mary as both his wife and an American citizen. It was at this perilous time that Mary discovered she was  pregnant.   She spent her days working on a new book, A Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution.  To  report accurately, she forced herself to go to the Place de la Revolution and watch the  daily beheadings.

On May 14th, Mary gave birth to Fanny.   When Mary joined Imlay, who had gone back to London, he informed her he didn’t want to be husband or father.  Mary attempted suicide by taking laudanum.  Imlay discovered the note she’d left and found her in time.   Afterwards, Mary tried to fight off her depression by traveling around Europe with Fanny and a nursemaid.  Nevertheless, when she returned to London and discovered Imlay  living with another woman,  she attempted suicide for a second time.   If the first attempt was a mere cry for help, there is little doubt that the second time she really wished to die.  Her letter to Imlay expressed: “Let my wrongs sleep with me! Soon, very soon, I shall be at peace. When you receive this, my burning head will be cold. . . . I shall plunge into the Thames where there is least chance of my being snatched from the death I seek. God bless you! May you never know by experience what you have made me endure. Should your sensibility ever awake, remorse will find its way to your heart; and, in the midst of business and sensual pleasure, I shall appear before you, the victim of your deviation from rectitude”

  She stepped out one rainy October afternoon,  rented a small boat, and rowed it over to the less crowded Putney Bridge.   Welcoming death, she plunged into the Thames River.    She  expected to sink quickly as her clothes had become soaking wet from the rain.  Instead, water filled her lungs and she choked.  A  witness jumped in and rushed Mary  to a doctor who resuscitated her.

Of the suicide attempt, Mary wrote: ” I have only to lament, that, when the bitterness of death was past, I was inhumanly brought back to life and misery. But a fixed determination is not to be baffled by disappointment; nor will I allow that to be a frantic attempt, which was one of the calmest acts of reason. In this respect, I am only accountable to myself. Did I care for what is termed reputation, it is by other circumstances that I should be dishonoured.”

Afterwards, Imlay offered Mary financial help but she wrote to him for the last time in 1796 refusing his help and saying she departed with him in peace.  Since death had not embraced her as she had expected it to,  Mary stoically decided to get on with her life.   With this new determination, Mary penned, Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.   The  book brought her the adoring attention of William Godwin.

From the outside it appeared a bizarre pairing.  Mary was passionate and freespirited.  William, shy and withdrawn.     The former minister had become a founding father of anarchism with his book, Political Justice.   In it, Godwin spoke out against government and envisioned a future society where  people lived harmoniously in total freedom.  

They became very close friends but both were hesitant to make the first step towards romance.  William, being naturally timid, and Mary hesitant to give her heart away again after the disasterous affairs with Fuseli and Imlay.  But by 1796 they could no longer deny their love.  In Godwin, Mary found her soulmate.  They wrote several letters every day to each other; sharing a love for literature, philosophy, and idealistic dreams of a future utopian society.  They calculated Mary’s menstrual cycle for safe times to have sex.   The rhythm method worked as well as always; Mary was pregnant by December.

Godwin considered marriage  a form of slavery for women  (it should be remembered  at this time women surrendered all financial and bodily rights to their husband).    But when Mary voiced her fears of another child suffering illegitimacy,  he agreed to their getting wed.

On August 30th, Mary went into labor and gave birth to Mary Godwin(who would become famous as the authoress of Frankenstein) that evening.   However, the placenta never came out and a doctor was forced to take out the broken pieces by hand.  The procedure, without any painkillers, took several hours.   The doctor did not sterilize his hands or equipment causing an infection.   Eleven days later, with Godwin by her side,  Mary Wollstonecraft passed away.

The conservative Anti-Jacobin Review stated the cause of her death clearly depicted the differences in the sexes, and claimed it,  “the destiny of woman.”

Godwin was too distraught to attend the funeral.  He wrote his friend, Thomas Holcroft, “I firmly believe there does not exist her equal in the world. I know from experience we were formed to make each other happy. I have not the least expectation that I can now ever know happiness again.”

Godwin channeled his grief into devoting all his time to his wife’s memory.  Inspired by Rousseau’s candid Confessions, Godwin sought to write a vivid, true portrait of his wife. He gathered all her diaries and letters and published, Memoirs of the Author of “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”.   He believed the honest portrait would enamor people to his beloved wife.  That they would see her as a strong woman who had lived and loved passionately with all her being.   In the preface he wrote, ”  I cannot easily prevail on myself to doubt, that the more fully we are presented with the picture and story of such persons as the subject of the following narrative, the more generally shall we feel in ourselves an attachment to their fate and a sympathy in their excellencies.”   However, England had become increasingly conservative and the Tory press nearly demonized Mary for enjoying premarital sex and for her suicide attempts.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s reputation remained shattered for over a century.  Women were cautioned that no self-respecting female should ever read her works.   Largely ignored even by 19th century suffrage activists,  it was not until the twentieth century that she was embraced by such luminaries as Virginia Woolfe and Emma Goldman. 

Today, Mary Wollstonecraft  has reclaimed her place  as the mother of the feminist movement.   And unlike many of the members who believed they had to deny their feminine side in order to be equal to men, Mary embraced her femininity.   She  was as unafraid to love as she was to speak out against social and political injustice.

“It appears to me impossible that I should cease to exist, or that this active, restless spirit, equally alive to joy and sorrow, should be only organized dust — ready to fly abroad the moment the spring snaps, or the spark goes out, which kept it together. Surely something resides in this heart that is not perishable — and life is more than a dream. “- Mary Wollstonecraft

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Wuthering Heights

 

I noticed a discussion on AW regarding whether Wuthering Heights was a love story or not.   This prompted me to repost this book review I wrote last summer:

It’s been called the most passionately written novel in the English language.  The love between the foundling Heathcliffe and his foster father’s daughter, Catherine, turns to hate when she forsakes him (and herself) to marry for money.

Many people open this novel with false expectations.  This usually comes from having viewed the classic film version starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon.  As gorgeous as that film is- it is not the book.  Not only  is the second half of the story missing-  the characters and themes are  also greatly watered down.

In the film, Heathcliffe is the tragic hero- heartbroken and brooding over the woman who left him.  It never goes into the horrific emotional and physical abuse he unleashes onto the second generation.   Catherine is  portrayed as a spoiled, narcisstic child.   The film doesn’t dare go deeper into her troubled psyche which causes her to will her own death.

Emily Bronte dared.

Charlotte Bronte said, ”liberty was the breath of Emily’s nostrils; without it, she perished.”

Indeed, much of Emily’s poetry deals with personal freedom.

One of her famous lines from a poem is:

I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading:

it vexes me to choose another guide.”

Catherine commits suicide the moment she allows societal opinions to dictate how she should live.  It takes her body some years more to follow.

The last lines of Emily’s poem, Light up thy Halls- seems a forebearer to Heathcliffe’s grief and rage:

And yet for all her hate, each parting glance would tell

A stronger passion breathed, burned, in this last farewell.

Unconquered in my soul the Tyrant rules me still;

Life bows to my control, but Love I cannot kill!”

Many critics claim the second part of the novel- concerning the relationship between the second Catherine and Heathcliffe’s adopted son, Hareton, is weak.  Is it less passionate than the first part?  Yes.  Weak- no.

The first part of the novel is a thunderous storm.  The second part details the breaking of the clouds- and at last- the calm.

What Heathcliffe and Catherine did wrong- Hareton and Catherine the 2nd, set right again.

Nature restores itself.

Wuthering Heights is not for everyone.  While it is a love story, its dark themes of vengeance, abuse, madness, and necrophelia- is not of the Harlequin sort.

People hate this novel with the same passion others love it.

Emily probably doesn’t care.

It is doubtful anyone ever forgets it.

Published in: on February 11, 2009 at 7:38 pm  Comments (26)  
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Mary Shelley And The Night That Birthed Frankenstein

In the summer of 1816 a cold spell swept across Europe and North America.   The unusual chill caused snowfall in July and unparalleled thunderstorms.   Pamphlets were passed around predicting the end of the world.

During June of that year,  five of the most famous persons in the world gathered together in a summerhouse in Villa Diodati, on the southern shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland.  “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know”*- Lord Byron, Dr. John Polidori, ethereal Percy Shelley, Claire Clairmont (eighteen years-old and pregnant with Byron’s child), and her stepsister, Mary Godwin (mistress to the married Shelley).

Mary Godwin (later Shelley) was born on August 30, 1797 to the radical political philosopher William Godwin, and  founding feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (authoress of “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”).   Mr. Godwin never got over the death of  his wife who died due to complications during childbirth.  He taught young Mary to spell her name by tracing the letters on her mother’s tombstone.

Although both Godwin and Wollstonecraft had been disciples of the free love movement, he was outraged when his own daughter began a love affair with the married poet and refused to speak with her.

Mary had spent her childhood haunted by the idea that she’d murdered her mother and  was determined to prove her consequent life worthy.   It had not been easy growing up the child of famed revolutionaries.   Now,  practically disowned by the father she adored, and in the company of  the poetic geniuses, Byron and Percy, Mary felt an even greater need to prove herself.

On June 16, 1816, as candles flickered and lightning illuminated the room, Byron read from Fantasmagoriana,  a volume of German shudder stories translated into French.  Upon finishing, he challenged everyone in the room to write a ghost story.  This was just the incitement Mary needed.

Mary wrote, “I busied myself to think of a story,- a story to rival those which had excited us to this task.  One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror.”  

However, Mary was unable to think of an idea until June 22nd.   On that evening, the conversation turned to, “the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated.”  They discussed the experiments of Erasmus Darwin who had, “preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case, till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion.”

Mary began imagining a corpse re-animated.    Past midnight, she found herself unable to sleep.  “My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie.”   Her eyes closed, she saw, “a pale student of unhallowed arts….kneeling beside the thing he had put together.  I saw the hideous phantasm 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.”

Mary opened her eyes, but she was not able to dismiss the “hideous phantom”.  She later recalled thinking, “O! if I could only contrive one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night.”  A few moments later she realized,  “I have found it!”

The next morning, Mary announced she had thought of a story.  Along with the dream, she brought with her  a lifetime spent devouring the works of Goethe, Dante, Schiller, Shakespeare, Milton, and Matthew “Monk” Lewis.

In writing, Frankenstein ; or, The Modern  Prometheus, she would further utilize the theory of vitalism which held that a life force separated living things from  non-living things.  Some believed in a connection between vitalism (or elan vital) and electricity.  In 1803,  Giovanni Aldini had claimed to make dead bodies sit up and raise their arms by applying electricity. 

Mary’s first words were, “It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils.” ( This opening spoken by Dr. Victor Frankenstein would later become the opening of chapter 4 in the 1818 edition and chapter 5 in the revised 1831 version).

Dr. Frankenstein discovers the secrets of creating life.  After gathering human parts from charnel houses, he infuses the spark of life into the being.  However, Frankenstein is immediately horrified at the ugliness of his own creation.    He casts the Monster out into the unfeeling world.  This Monster- sensitive and tender- seeks understanding from Man but is constantly spurned until he chooses suicide.

The Monster cries out,”I shall die.   I shall no longer feel the agonies which now consume me, or be the prey of feelings unsatisfied, yet unquenched.”

As Mary began penning what at first was only intended to be a short story, she could have no idea that she was creating one of the most enduring characters ever invented.   The  unnamed Monster, rejected by his own father, (as Mary had been rejected by hers) would outlive all of the five men and women gathered together in that villa on the shores of lake Geneva.

*quote by Lady Caroline Lamb- lover to Lord Byron

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