Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Stealing His Thunder

NPR listeners got a charge from the monster on Monday evening when Nell Greenfieldboyce’s climate change series included comments from two scholars who ascribed Mary Shelley's vision to the weird weather of the summer of 1816. Skies grey, wind cold, lightning flashing, all thanks to the eruption of Mount Tamboro in Indonesia—that was the weather landscape within which the monstrous story took shape.

“I think the plan had been to be tourists and go climbing the mountains,” Greenfieldboyce quotes Bill Phillips as saying. “And they couldn't, because of weather.”

Well, sort of . . . the evenings when the ghost stories were read and the contest to write another began, Mary Godwin and her friends may have been weatherbound. But then Byron and Shelley took off for a sail around the lake, and it was probably during that solitude that Mary Godwin (later to be Shelley) really looked her monster in the eyes for the first time.

And then, the monster's story conjuring itself in her imagination, she and her stepsister Claire and her lover Percy Bysshe did go mountain climbing. She gazed upon Mont Blanc and its glaciers firsthand, then used her travel notes to evoke the same scene when describing the first lucid encounter between creature and creator in her novel.

Read more details of their summer entrancements in my book, due out in early October from W. W. Norton. I am proud to report that Charles Robinson, Frankenstein scholar and editor of a reproduction of the novel's manuscript, considers that “Susan Tyler Hitchcock's scholarship on both the novel Frankenstein and its later incarnations is very impressive.”

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