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The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankensteinby Dorothy Hoobler and Thomas Hoobler
Synopses & Reviews
On a gloomy night in 1816, as a storm brewed on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland, the famed English poet Lord Byron challenged his friends to a contest — to write a ghost story. The assembled group included the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley; his lover (and future wife) Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; Mary's stepsister, Claire Claremont; and Byron's physician, John William Polidori.
None of the guests expected much of the precocious Mary, who was seen by some as little more than a child. But the famous result of that night was Mary Shelley's breathtaking novel Frankenstein, which appeared in print two years later and has retained its hold on the popular imagination for almost two centuries. Less well known was Polidori's work, the first vampire novel. It too would inspire a legend (and most directly Bram Stoker's Dracula), as well as many nightmares. And the evening also begat a curse: Within a few years of Frankenstein's publication, nearly all of those involved met untimely deaths.
The Monsters tells the riveting story of the real-life characters surrounding the creation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Drawing on private diaries, personal letters, and contemporary accounts, Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler have created a spectacular account of artistic creation and personal destruction. They reveal not just the true origins of two of the most famous monsters in popular culture, but also the monstrous and tragic nature of the young people who gathered that summer on the shores of Lake Geneva. Gripping and spooky, The Monsters is unforgettable.
"In this absorbing biography, the Hooblers, historians and children's authors (The American Family Albums), chronicle the turbulent life of Mary Shelley (17971851), author of the classic gothic novel, Frankenstein. They open with a moving sketch of the life of her famous mother, feminist rebel writer Mary Wollstonecraft, who died 11 days after giving birth to Mary. Sixteen-year-old Mary eloped to France, in 1814, with the freethinking Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Effectively surrounded by egotistical and rapacious 'monsters' such as Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, a new mother at 19, penned the tale of Frankenstein in response to a challenge set by Byron to guests at his Swiss villa. The Hooblers amply relate how the themes of Mary Shelley's masterpiece correspond to her life. Portraying Mary Shelley's stoic endurance of trauma and loss — two of her children died early — the Hooblers describe her final misery when Percy Shelley drowned while she was still in her early 20s. Summarizing Mary's other novels and recounting how she championed Shelley's posthumous literary reputation while raising her remaining son to conventional manhood, the Hooblers' well-crafted biography will appeal to all who wish to learn more about the conception of Frankenstein and its enigmatic author. 8 pages of b&w photos." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"It's the most famous 'dark and stormy night' in literary history. Every English major knows the story of the June 17, 1816, house party at the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva, where five young English people playfully vied with one another to tell a ghost story. The soap-operatic cast of characters is irresistible. The charismatic leader of the group (and also the initiator of the contest) was Lord Byron,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) the foremost celebrity of the age, a best-selling poet, talented, handsome, rich, witty, titled, pan-sexually promiscuous and hounded out of England two months earlier for scandals mainly centered on his relationship with his half-sister. Byron was 28, considerably the senior in this crowd, and the luxurious Diodati was his rental; he had brought with him as paid companion a young doctor (Byron's erratic crash dieting sometimes endangered his health), John William Polidori, 21, who was also an aspiring litterateur. The third man of the group, Percy Bysshe Shelley, 23, was a decidedly radical (though always emotional) thinker who had recently begun to publish his own poetry; Byron had been unusually impressed by it, and, upon their meeting at a nearby hotel three weeks earlier, by Shelley too. And then there were the teenagers. Mary Godwin (later Shelley) was the daughter of the famous feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who died soon after her birth, and the freethinking William Godwin (here presented as an inveterate sponger). Mary had eloped two years earlier, at 16, with the married Shelley, and oddly had taken along her 16-year-old stepsister Claire Claremont (daughter of Godwin's second wife) on the 'honeymoon.' During their travels in tandem, Claire had quite probably slept with Shelley too, but she had developed an obsessive crush on the rock-star-famous Byron (who was also married) and pursued him recklessly. Women often enough threw themselves at Byron, but Claire's connection with Shelley intrigued him enough to set up a rendezvous — and then, as he said later, 'If a girl of eighteen comes prancing to you at all hours, there is but one way.' By June, at the Diodati, she was secretly pregnant with his child. Only two members of this entangled party completed the assignment, but they came through so spectacularly that their 'monsters' have become essential to modern popular culture: Mary Shelley's nameless creature, created by Dr. Victor Frankenstein, and John Polidori's vampire. Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler's otherwise well-researched, fair-minded roundup of the group, 'The Monsters,' is based on the rather contrived conceit that the members of Byron's house party psychologically paralleled the imagined monstrousness of their creations. Mary Shelley, in particular, gets a labored analysis as both creator and created, the doctor and the monster, fashioned in bits and pieces by her father, by the memory of her famous mother and by Shelley. With the vampire, the Hooblers are on firmer ground. Gothic scholars and serious horror fans know that the modern concept of the arrogant, elegant, moody, aristocratic, malicious, sexual predator who has come to seem the one true vampire was in fact invented by Polidori in 'The Vampyre,' published in 1819, with its antihero modeled so obviously on Lord Byron as to invite a lawsuit. Folktales about vampires — crude animalistic blood-suckers, not so different from werewolves — had been around for centuries, but Polidori, whose talent Byron had cruelly derided, changed this image completely, delivering a sharp, lurid social caricature of his tormentor. Lest anyone miss the point, his vampire was called Lord Ruthven — the name that Lady Caroline Lamb, Byron's scorned lover, had given to her own caricature of him in her best-seller about their steamy affair, 'Glenarvon.' To further complicate matters, Polidori's vampire tale was based on a fragment that Byron had scribbled out as his contest entry, and many people thought he had written Polidori's novel. In any case, all the famous vampires that followed, from Bram Stoker's Dracula (who didn't appear until 1897) to Anne Rice's Lestat and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Saint-Germain, draw their lineage from Polidori's portrait of Byron. So much for vampires; as for Frankenstein, his curse is invoked as members of the party and their loved ones died. Claire's child by Byron and all but one of Mary's children by Shelley died early. Mary's sister and Shelley's first wife were suicides in their twenties, as may have been Polidori, who was dead at 25. Shelley drowned at 29, leaving Mary a 24-year-old widow. Byron died of a fever in Missolonghi, Greece, at 36. The women lived on, but their lives seemed sadly diminished. Endless numbers of books have been written about these people, even the comparatively unknown Claire. But the Hooblers, longtime co-authors who once won an Edgar Award, provide a good brisk overview for readers attracted to real-life Regency romance at its most colorful. Some may remember the movies about that evening — Ken Russell's 'Gothic' (1986) or Ivan Passer's 'Haunted Summer' (1988) — and want to know more. This book will fill them in nicely. Alice K. Turner is a former fiction editor of Playboy." Reviewed by Alice K. Turner, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Although the creation of Frankenstein has been well documented, the Hooblers vividly and effectively set the scene for Lord Byron's challenge to Shelley and other group members to write a ghost story as a contest." Library Journal
"Much of what the authors assert is unremarkable....Its thin thesis notwithstanding, the volume does reveal that the Hooblers have read the standard biographies of the principals as well as their published correspondence, journals and diaries." Kirkus Reviews
"You could not say of this book that it had to be written, but since it has been, it will do for the less discriminating reader who wants to start with something reasonably reliable if not ultimately inspired." San Francisco Chronicle
One murky night in 1816, on the shores of Lake Geneva, Lord Byron, famed English poet, challenged his friends to a contest--to write a ghost story. The assembled group
included the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley; his lover (and future wife) Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; Mary's stepsister Claire Claremont; and Byron's physician, John William Polidori. The famous result was Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a work
that has retained its hold on the popular imagination for almost two centuries. Less well-known was the curious Polidori's contribution: the first vampire novel. And the
evening begat a curse, too: Within a few years of Frankenstein's publication, nearly all of those involved met untimely deaths. Drawing upon letters, rarely tapped archives, and their own magisterial rereading of Frankenstein itself, Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler have crafted a rip-roaring tale of obsession and creation.
About the Author
Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler, a married couple who have written numerous books together, were drawn to this story of great writers inspiring each other collaboratively. Their most recent novel, In Darkness, Death, won a 2005 Edgar Award. They live in New York City.
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