Sunday, October 14, 2018

Fortnightly Book, October 14

1816 was a year without a summer. A massive volcanic eruption in Indonesia the year before poured volcanic ash into the air, filling the atmosphere with so much dust that at times the sun looked an angry red, and blocked enough of the light that you could even at times see sunspots like a pox upon the sun. Snow fell in June in temperate places, and tropical countries had their first winter snow in centuries. Frosts nipped flowers in the bud. Crops collapsed. Livestock grew sickly and died. In rural Europe, Famine held a ruthless sway. In India, cholera took life after life as the monsoon season stretched longer and longer as if it would never end. In China, the fertile Yangtze River valley was under water for most of the year. In the midst of it all, Byron wrote a poem about the end of the world:

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went--and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light....

In Switzerland, Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin (later Shelley), and a few friends spent much of the summer huddled indoors. "It proved a wet, ungenial summer," Mary Shelley would later say, "and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house." To pass the while, they would write and read stories, and (when the rain would part for a while) do some light boating on Lake Geneva. Having enjoyed a collection of German ghost stories, Byron proposed that they each write their own. It seemed like fun, but Mary Godwin agonized over it. Finally, a few nights later, after a philosophical discussion about what made living things alive, Mary in a bout of insomnia had a ghastly vision of someone animating a corpse, and she had her story idea. Percy liked it so much that he encouraged her to develop it, so what started as a short story became a novel, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, which was a hit from the beginning, and is the next fortnightly book.

Frankenstein was undergoing a surge of popularity during the Golden Age of Radio, so there are quite a few radio adaptations of it. If I have time, I will probably listen to some, as points of comparison.

There was a nice reading group on Frankenstein a few years back at "Shredded Cheddar" that covered a lot of the book (and particularly the ins and outs of the drama-queen-ishness of Victor Frankenstein himself); it was a worthwhile discussion, and worth mentioning here:


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