Following Charlotte Brontë: Mapping Her Life

Life is so constructed, that the event does not, cannot, will not, match the expectation. (Charlotte Brontë)

 Painting of Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Brontë (left to right). Painted by Branwell Brontë, he initially painted himself into the picture but later painted over himself (1834).

Painting of Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Brontë (left to right). Painted by Branwell Brontë, he initially painted himself into the picture but later painted over himself (1834).

I have previously written the course of Charlotte Brontë’s life and works in a timeline, constructing parallels between her life and Shirley, and have delved into the experiences of life and death that perhaps impacted the author. It is not to say that there is absolutely more to write on Charlotte, and the StoryMap below I believe covers a more geographical abstraction of her life - although severely confined to only a few locations, the haphazard array of her travels, to and from the same locations, the return to Haworth and Roe Head, seem to provide structure to the events of Charlotte’s life. Considering the deaths of her brother and sisters, her marriage to Arthur Bell Nicholls, and subsequent death, these locations may be few but are significant.

And even so, the quote mentioned in the title of this section seems to adequately describe the circumstances that plagued Charlotte Brontë’s life - a life “so constructed, that the event does not, cannot, will not, match the expectation.” That expectation may have been of subsequent livelihood in the company of her siblings, although this is certainly not the case as we know today. Charlotte outlived every one of her siblings, yet passed before the birth of her own child and only a year into her marriage. The expectation of life does not conform to these events - life is so constructed that it will definitively not match the expectation.

Influence on charlotte Brontë’s writing: looking at historical context

For every one of her pieces, there is a story behind Charlotte Brontë’s words. Whether it be influence from a specific location, or the deaths of her siblings, Charlotte wrote through compromising circumstances. (editing)

Shirley: Charlotte Brontë, Luddites, and the Women in Her Life

Charlotte Brontë as Currer Bell

 Charlotte Brontë’s signature

Charlotte Brontë’s signature

Charlotte Brontë may be described as diverging from the “true woman” that is designated by popular culture and societal normalcy in 19th century England. Rather, Charlotte performed in contrast to the pursuit of domesticity - she removed herself from marriage until later in life, and busied herself with prose and poetry. The eldest of the Brontë sisters, Charlotte was born in 1816 as the third of six children to Patrick and Maria Brontë. All three of the Brontë sisters were accomplished writers and contributed to the literary circle under the pseudonym of Bell: Currer, Ellis, and Acton. Of her works, Jane Eyre and Shirley may be of the most notable, although she is also well known for writing the Villette of 1853 among her first novel, not published until 1857, The Professor.

Charlotte Brontë may be considered a figure of survival, having experienced death and solitude (much like Mary Shelley). In their youth, Maria Brontë passed away in 1821 of cancer, leaving her five daughters, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, and her son Branwell. In 1825, both Maria and Elizabeth passed from tuberculosis and in part from the poor conditions of the Clergy Daughters’ School in Lancashire. Although the eldest of the Brontë sisters to survive to adulthood, she experienced the death of Emily and Anne in 1848 and 1849 respectfully, both following the death of their brother Branwell Brontë earlier in 1848. Charlotte, sole survivor, pursued marriage to Arthur Bell Nicholls after her initial denial of his proposal, in 1854, grew pregnant the same year, but passed in March of 1855 soon thereafter.

Charlotte’s Shirley must be heavily considered in terms of Luddite history; however, it is also important to note how the women, Caroline and Shirley, are characterized within the text. Similar to Charlotte’s own experiences, Shirley too denies various suitors, while Caroline marries a suitor, Robert Moore, whom she has loved all along. However, before delving into the categorization of Charlotte’s female characters, we must contextualize this as a piece correlating with historical Luddite events and Charlotte’s own purpose in pursuing the subject for her novel.

Luddite Lowdown

The novel takes place in 1811-2 during the industrial depression implicated by the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812, in Spen Valley of West Yorkshire. Many of the locations and events within the novel take place and replicate historical accounts Charlotte would have learned about as she pursued further knowledge on the Luddites. Briarmains is reflective of the Red House in Gomersal, now a museum, but at the time was owned by Charlotte's friend Mary Taylor; the Elizabeathan manor house, Oakwell Hall, was inspiration for Fieldhead, also a museum; and the attack on Robert Moore’s mill was inspired by the actual Luddite attack on Cartwrights’s Mill at Rawfolds, Liversedge.

Within the novel, it is apparent of the conflict arising surrounding Robert Moore’s mill and his inability to pay his workers and thus invests in machinery to perform the work of the workers he had to lay off. This was an event occurring simultaneously across England, primarily forging in Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, and Lancashire. The layoff of textile workers to be replaced with industrialized mechanics caused irritation and uprising where these “Luddites” would fight back against the machines - literally destroying their replacements. They were also political and activists, forging a figure for themselves under the name King Ludd. Various Romantic era writers, such as Lord Byron, spoke in favor of what the Luddite’s were pursuing - their jobs and political representation. Robert Moore represents the textile mill owner that receives the retaliation of the Luddites as they storm his mill, shooting him in the process.

Female Representation, Relationships, and Procuring Identity

As mentioned previously, Charlotte Brontë may have very well written herself, or her life, into her novel through the characterization of Shirley and Caroline. However, it is also notable that Emily and Anne are just as recognizable within the two female characters: Shirley representative of Emily Brontë had she been born into a wealthy family, and Anne recognized as Caroline. However, regardless of these implications, female characterization is important within Charlotte Brontë’s works, and that is not an exception for Shirley. Not only did the title actually shift the gender of the name Shirley to become more feminized than previously masculine. However, the novel also promotes feminine agency, specifically in terms of domesticity and the pursuit thereof. As I mentioned before, Charlotte Brontë had denied various suitors throughout her life, finally marrying even after denying Nicholls’s original proposal; Shirley too experiences these pursuits throughout the novel. This is primarily because of her status, but that does not explain Charlotte’s experiences. Born into a lower class family, Charlotte, among her siblings, made a life for herself out of her prose and poetry - thankfully, they were raised with education and intelligence as a primary factor of their lives. Caroline, similarly to the Brontës, was born without the benefit of Shirley’s wealth and accommodation - in this way she is a better representation. She also experiences intense solitary and loneliness, something Charlotte may too have experienced as the eldest sister and the sole survivor later in life.

The female representation within the novel also speaks to different idealizations of female normalcy. While the actions of Shirley and Caroline may not be per the “true woman” societal perception of femininity, they are more progressive especially in terms of an industrial depression. Shirley is able to make decisions that protect her person, although her wealth allows her to make these decisions, yet she diverges from suppression. In fact, Caroline’s solemn situation of dependence upon her uncle changes once she meets Shirley, whom is described in the opposite of Caroline as well off, lively, giving, and idea-prone. She also displays concern for the textile industry, specifically Robert’s business, in regards to the Luddite uprising against the ever pressing industrial implementation within these mills. However, as the novel eludes to Shirley and Robert marrying, she refuses his proposal because she feels certain he is doing so for her fortune. Robert leaves, returns to his mill, and is shot by retaliating workers. Caroline aids in his recovery, and they marry in the end while Shirley marries Louis Moore, her nephew’s tutor and Robert’s younger brother.

The relationship between the characters is very complicated, specifically in contrast to their other relationships - Shirley acts different with Robert as with Louis, and Robert’s stray from Caroline is only reversed in her forgiveness of his actions towards her. Shirley’s openness and relinquishing her fears is only seen in her interactions with Louis, and Caroline slips into periods of sickness and solemnity otherwise in relationship with Robert or Shirley. The identification of Charlotte’s character is reflective of the health of their relationships with one another - similar to Jane Eyre, the complexities and returning-to specific characters in the end is representative of the growth she makes her characters endure.

In My Memory: Percy Shelley's Nod to Friendships, Poetry, and Eternity

Letter to Maria Gisborne

In 1820, Percy Shelley wrote to a friend of Mary and himself whom resided in London at the time. Although perhaps the relationship is controversial, the friendship between Maria Gisborne and the Shelley’s was worthy of poetry, at least to Percy. In “Letter to Maria Gisborne,” Percy is commenting on multiple facets of his life; the pursuit of nearly preserving the thoughts of his mind is evident in the positively chaotic writing style of the poem. Perhaps described as beautiful, the poem speaks to an egocentric identification of Shelley; this is not to belie the poem, but rather shine importance to the content itself: friendships, memory, poetry, and preservation.

 Percy Bysshe Shelley,  Portrait of Shelley  by Alfred Clint, 1829.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, Portrait of Shelley by Alfred Clint, 1829.

Friendly Poets

In the edition of Percy Shelley’s poems edited by Mary Shelley, the names of their friends and fellow poets were omitted from the poem “Letter to Mary Gisborne.” These omissions were perhaps to preserve face of specific individuals, but is interesting enough nonetheless to incite the question of the inclusion of these names originally. The individuals mentioned include Coleridge, Hunt, Hogg, and Peacock:

You will see C—; he who sits obscure
In the exceeding lustre, and the pure
Intense irradiation of a mind,
Which, with its own internal lightning blind,
Flags wearily through darkness and despair—
A cloud-encircled meteor of the air,
A hooded eagle among blinking owls.—
You will see H—t; one of those happy souls
Which are the salt of the earth, and without whom
This world would smell like what it is — a tomb;
Who is, what others seem; — his room no doubt
Is still adorned by many a cast from Shout,
With graceful flowers tastefully placed about;
And coronals of bay from ribbons hung,
And brighter wreaths in neat disorder flung;
The gifts of the most learn'd among some dozens
Of female friends, sisters-in-law and cousins.
And there is he with his eternal puns,
Which beat the dullest brain for smiles, like duns
Thundering for money at a poet's door;
Alas! it is no use to say, "I'm poor!"
Or oft in graver mood, when he will look
Things wiser than were ever read in book,
Except in Shakespear's wisest tenderness.
You will see H—, and I cannot express
His virtues, — though I know that they are great,
Because he locks, then barricades the gate
Within which they inhabit; — of his wit
And wisdom, you'll cry out when you are bit.
He is a pearl within an oyster shell,
One of the richest of the deep. And there
Is English P— with his mountain Fair
Turned into a Flamingo, — that shy bird
That gleams i' the Indian air. Have you not heard
When a man marries, dies, or turns Hindoo,
His best friends hear no more of him? but you
Will see him, and will like him too, I hope,
With the milk-white Snowdonian Antelope
Matched with the cameleopard; his fine wit
Makes such a wound, the knife is lost in it;
A strain too learned for a shallow age,
Too wise for selfish bigots; — let his page
Which charms the chosen spirits of the time,
Fold itself up for the serener clime
Of years to come, and find its recompense
In that just expectation. Wit and sense,
Virtue and human knowledge, all that might
Make this dull world a business of delight,
Are all combined in H. S. — And these,
With some exceptions, which I need not teaze
Your patience by descanting on, are all
You and I know in London.

All but Hunt were noticeably Spenserian poets, following in that suit of writing; however, according to Bernard Groom in Diction of English Poetry (1955), Shelley could arguably be the least Spenserian of “five chief romantic poets,” and “in this respect he stands alone.”

Arguably, Shelley is writing in such a manner not to only draw attention to the poetic forms of his colleagues and friends in comparison to himself, but also to preserve his rambling thoughts for those same colleagues and friends in his death. In his repetitive mention to the you, Maria Gisborne, directly throughout the poem, he is calling the reader back to the audience of this female friend residing in London instead of the symbolic and descriptive language of the poem itself. It seems to recenter the poem in terms of how it works for Shelley, not only as a form of creative expression but also to ground his observances and ideas in relationship to the importance of poetry and works within their poetic circle - the difference between them and him.

Is he condemning the fruits of his colleagues in terms of being Spenserian replicas? The poem is melancholy and speaks to one particular friendship - Maria Gisborne - over all else, and may be read as a call to a similar mind to this own. Rather than attempt to write for “a hooded eagle among blinking owls” or the man who “locks, then barricades the gate / Within which [his virtues] inhabit,” he is writing for the Gisborne whom shares a similar understanding of these descriptions given in the following lines:

[…] Wit and sense,

Virtue and human knowledge, all that might

Make this dull world a business of delight,

Are all combined in H.S. - and these,

With some exceptions, which I need not teaze

Your patience by descanting on, are all

You and I know in London.

Shelley is separating Gisborne and himself from the rest of their colleagues for the purpose of that similar mind and friendship. Although he is not shading his colleague’s works, he is commenting on the mechanisms for their poetic form in terms of being a mock off Shakespearean and Spencerian form.

Using Mythology as Romantics Do

Within the poem, Shelley refers to many mythological figures to maintain his point and paint a symbolic notion of his poetic voice - a use Romantic poets are keen to draw upon: Vulcan, the god of fire, Ixion, king of the Lapthis, etc.. The story of Ixion is mentioned briefly; though perhaps quickly skimmed by, his story deserves further focus for the importance it draws upon Shelley’s egocentricity.

To summarize the culmination of Ixion’s downfall, we may also turn to the story of Prometheus, a figure Shelley has previously written concerning, and the eternal damnation of his fate. Ixion, too, experiences a similar fate minus the stone and liver eating eagle. Ixion murdered his father-in-law, and was thus estranged and hated; however, Zeus took pity on him and allowed his stay at Olympus. Ixion grew lustful for Hera, Zeus’s wife, while under their care, and Zeus took notice of this attraction. Thus, he created a cloud-shaped Hera to lure Ixion and confirm his suspicions of his lust. Ixion copulated with the cloud Hera, giving birth to a son whom eventually fathered the species Centaur. Upon this insult, Zeus fixed Ixion to a winged, fiery wheel that would turn eternally as his fate.

The eternal fixation of Ixion on a spinning wheel on fire greatly anticipates the culmination of Shelley’s own spite to avoid being regarded as a copy-cat poet. Perhaps the wheel spinning is Shelley’s life, and only in death may he be immortal and forever regarded in the memory of his friends; the culmination of imagery of fire, forgery, magic, and alchemy throughout the poem renders a sort of mysticism forging immortality. However, the reference may argue the opposite, where he is vexing the implications of industry with his poetic form. Either way, the symbolic reference of Greek mythological figures correlates to the implications these poets had in establishing a figure for the mindset of their ideology - Prometheus, for example.

Tea and Toast and Ideas

Percy Shelley’s political ideals speaks through his works, as we can see in his poetry and letters and essays. He spoke out on reform, made life decisions for political reasons, and was timely radical. The course of “Letter to Maria Gisborne” is simplistic, and offers a rudimentary account of the estate they are staying by the grace of the Gisborne’s, but also commentary of the progressiveness on industry, engineering, and magical realism. The crossover of science and magic are evident in paintings of the time that implicate these ideals of awe and enthusiasm, provoking the pursuit of ideas and invention. (in progress)

The Last [Wo]Man

Shelley’s Survival: Mary Shelley Within Her Own Novel

It is often deduced that Mary Shelley’s novel The Last Man has characters that pertain to specific individuals of her life. The fact that these individuals die is only consequential to Shelley’s own life. In the end, Shelley was the only one left of the vagabond friend group of the Romantic visionaries. It is no wonder, then, that Shelley would write Lionel Verney as having characteristics considerate of her own; as the last man, he too is left as the sole survivor. However, Shelley is not the only one she has written into The Last Man: Adrian is Percy Shelley and Lord Raymond is Lord Byron.

 Mary Shelley, 1831. By Samuel John.

Mary Shelley, 1831. By Samuel John.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

To understand the context of Shelley writing herself as the last man, or perhaps the reason we are able to infer her as such, we must look at the historical context of her life. Loss is integral to the existence of Shelley, as her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, passed less than a month after Shelley was born. She was raised by her father, William Godwin, and was provided a sensible education. Through her father she met Percy Shelley as one of his political followers, and, although he was already married to Harriet, Percy’s first wife, Shelley became pregnant with his child. Sadly, the child was born premature and died. This would not be the first of Shelley’s children to pass, and set a foundation for the grievances Shelley expressed; in 1818, Shelley’s second and third child passed. However, after their deaths she gave birth to her last and surviving child. Percy Shelley drowned in 1822 and Lord Byron died to Malaria in 1824. Mary Shelley would live until 1851, when she would die of a brain tumor.

Drowning and Sacrifice

Both themes of drowning and sacrifice are prominently used by Shelley, perhaps because of her comfort on the topic. In a post-apocalyptic world, The Last Man is evidently enamored by plague, death, and disease. However, it is also circumstantial to natural disaster; a “dark moon” is described to preside over Europe and the Americas, causing the seas to surge and flood coastal towns. Water is used as an elemental force, but also as a means for death to occur. Adrian and Clara both drown near the end of Shelley’s novel when their ship is wrecked, and Perdita drowns by throwing herself off the ship after Lord Raymond’s death in despair.

Sacrifice, too, is pertinent to the story; typically used in ways to depict sorrow and companionship, love and devotion, sacrificial scenes within a post-apocalyptic world are worth mentioning as circumstantial to the mindset of many of Shelley’s characters. Although not always in terms of despair, it seems that despair is correlated to sacrifice, and nearly permeates the pages; Perdita throws herself off the ship after Raymond’s death; Lionel’s father commits suicide after being exiled for the betterment of his children; Lucy stays behind with her ill mother until she passes; and Juliet is killed when she notifies the false messiah’s followers of his charade.

Life and Death

Shelley’s piece is easily read within the context of grief and despair; however, the above themes of drowning and sacrifice are not artificial or foreign to Shelley. Percy Shelley drowned in 1822, leaving her widowed, and she returned to England to dedicate the remainder of her life to her remaining son and authorship. Similarly to Lionel, the “last man,” is the pursuit to continue writing regardless of the monumental death surrounding him:

Yet, how could I resign myself? Without love, without sympathy, without communion with any, how could I meet the morning sun, and with it trace its oft repeated journey to the evening shades? Why did I continue to live - why not throw off the weary weight of time, and with my own hand, let out the fluttering prisoner from my agonized breast? - It was not cowardice that withheld me; for the true fortitude was to endure; and death had a soothing sound accompanying it, that would easily entice me to enter its demesne. But this I would not do. (463-4)

Rather, Lionel is “endeavored to read” and vows to “write a book” but is skeptical for he understanding that he would write “for whom to read? - to whom dedicated?,” nonetheless writing to leave a “record of these things” that have transpired (466). Shelley’s determination to write and survive is only reciprocated by her characters.

Sourced:

Shelley, Mary. The Last Man. Edited by Morton D. Paley. Oxford University Press, 2008.

She Contained a Portion of the Sea: The Cockle Shell and the Sea

Why Not Waves? And Why Not Tide?

The Cockle Shell and the Sea
Anon
The Gentleman's Magazine, XXXIII (July, 1813), p. 63

A Cockle Shell, whose slender cup
Had by a wave been lifted up,
And gently lodg'd, secure and sound,
A little way upon the ground,
Yet not so far, but ev'ry day,
She drank the falling of the spray,
Grew vain at length to think that she
Contained a portion of the sea.
"And why not more? (at length she cried)
And why not waves, and why not tide?
Perhaps, though men account me small,
I might on proof contain it all;
'Tis worth the trial; how should I
Be sure I can't, unless I try?"
Fir'd by the grandeur of the thought,
To quit her safe retreat she sought;
And, victim of her idiot pride,
Plung'd downward in the swelling tide:
But now no fav'ring wave was there;
Ambition fled, arose Despair;
When a rude billow, that receiv'd
The wanton fool, now undeceiv'd,
Recoiling, for a moment bore
The buoyant trifle from the shore,
And murmur'd: "Idiot! learn too late
The misery of presumptuous fate.
Of holding seas no longer think:
The waste spray thou no more shall drink.
Know, vain pretender, to thy cost,
Thy small capacity is lost."
Then, flowing with impetuous shock
Against the angle of a rock
The Shell, at one tremendous stroke,
Into an hundred atoms broke. (via Romantic Circles)


The above poem is part of the British War Poetry of 1813, although British War Poetry spans from 1793 to 1815. The poetry itself comes at a time of political turmoil with war between Britain and France, up till the end of Napoleon’s reign at Waterloo in July of 1815. The poems were published primarily in magazines and newspapers and were widely circulated, although not originally collected and anthologized; major Romantic writers such as Byron, Shelley, Coleridge, and Shelley had written on the subject matter, but many were not published initially and only after the war period.

As I perused the 350 poems of the digital collection via Romantic Circles, the above poem caught my attention for the symbolic emphasis of the theme. Not only is the poem beautiful and contextualized in terms of war, but it resembles a different form of war poetry that is not explicitly talking about war or the results thereof. Rather, we are face to face with the story of a cockle shell and her demise.

The cockle shell is feminized, referred to with the feminine pronoun her. Knowing the specified identity of the shell, or rather knowing the shell is not considered masculine, speaks to the purpose of this poem. Why does she meet her demise? We can understand her purpose is the following lines:

She drank the falling of the spray,
Grew vain at length to think that she
Contained a portion of the sea.
"And why not more? (at length she cried)
And why not waves, and why not tide?
Perhaps, though men account me small,
I might on proof contain it all;
'Tis worth the trial; how should I
Be sure I can't, unless I try?"

Her pursuit of something else, something greater than what she was originally complacent with is evident in her contemplation of containing more than “a portion of the sea.” Upon her attempt, she is forced into a negative context with words such as victim, idiot pride, and wanton fool. This verbiage is provided through the personification of Despair, who deems her aspirations and ambition as vain:

Ambition fled, arose Despair;
When a rude billow, that receiv'd
The wanton fool, now undeceiv'd,
Recoiling, for a moment bore
The buoyant trifle from the shore,
And murmur'd: "Idiot! learn too late
The misery of presumptuous fate.
Of holding seas no longer think:
The waste spray thou no more shall drink.
Know, vain pretender, to thy cost,
Thy small capacity is lost."

In the context of risking all for something more, the cockle shell is condemned to “the misery of presumptuous fate” and has the one thing she had taken from her: “the waste spray thou no more shall drink.” Her capacity to at once be able to “drink” the ocean spray and participate in that beautiful context reaches a point of contention between her prescribed “vanity” to pursue more than what was initially allotted her and “fate”:

Then, flowing with impetuous shock
Against the angle of a rock
The Shell, at one tremendous stroke,
Into an hundred atoms broke.

She is broken into “an hundred atoms,” no longer able to hold the ocean within her cup. She is no longer a cockle shell.

So what does this mean? In what context can the story of a cockle shell be perceived in terms of war? Within the symbolism represented by the piece we may read the poem the same way we would read a poem about a widow, or as a tale of warning to pursue war. If we were to read it in context of it being a widow poem, the cockle shell is representative of that widow and thus destroyed upon the death of her husband. The poem very easily may be read in terms of women politically. Regardless, it is a tale of warning.

Poetry of Women Politics

  Marie Antoinette, en grand habit de cour  (by Jean-Baptiste-André Gautier-Dagoty, 1775)

Marie Antoinette, en grand habit de cour (by Jean-Baptiste-André Gautier-Dagoty, 1775)

In 1793, Marie Antoinette was executed by guillotine and would be the last Queen of France after being convicted for high treason. Her influence was paramount to the government and change in the foundation and order of the old regime. Sexual allegations stirred, romantic assumptions, and questioning of the royal morality surfaced. Her popularity crumbled, and led to negativity by both the political and societal spheres. One of the major factors that contributed to the negativity was the financial situation of France, heavily impacted by war and the royal family taken care of by the state, and then some. She was also vilified upon France’s declaration of war against Austria; she vocally spoke about Austrian “claim” to French land on one hand but gave information to Austria during the war and was even accused of sending millions of treasury money to them. Her trial led to a conviction based on accusations of aiding Austria, incest, planning the murder of the National Guards in 1792, declaring her son king of France, and more.

Although perhaps not explicitly referring to her, as the time period between Marie Antoinette’s execution and the above poem (1793 and 1813 respectfully), it is worth looking at the significance of a female cockle shell being represented in vanity and pursuing something more and the former Queen of France. Marie Antoinette was associated with promiscuity and affiliating with France’s enemies with sympathies; the shell is also denoted in terms of vanity and pursing something outside the walls of her small confine. It may also be argued that the “small capacity” of the shell could be inhabited by Marie Antoinette as her political position and influence that was seen as detrimental to France’s financial stability.

As mentioned, the speculation of this poem specifically regarding Marie Antoinette is stretched across twenty years. However, it is important to note how politically the poem works in terms of the turmoil during those years. Maybe not specifically about Marie Antoinette, her story is replicated throughout a historical context and may be perceived through a political upheaval and the wavering of a government that flew too close to the sun.


Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Looking at P.B. Shelley's "The Mask of Anarchy"

The Peterloo Massacre

Shelley’s poem “The Mask of Anarchy” was constructed around the Peterloo Massacre where 15 people were killed and 400-700 seriously injured. The government of Britain was primarily in favor of the event, demonstrating the political turbulence of the period. The event occurred when Henry Hunt was meant to speak on the topics of suffrage, liberty, and political rights; however, local magistrates meant to arrest him at his speech and in doing so they trampled a child and knocked over the mother. The crowd rose up at the event in protest, and at this reaction mounted hussars charged the people.

  Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse , by Victor Vasnetsov (1887).

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Victor Vasnetsov (1887).

The Four Horsemen

Shelley constructs the poem around the ideology of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, changing a few names here and there: Murder, Fraud, Hypocrisy, and Anarchy (in comparison to the original Death, Famine, War, and Conquest). However, Shelley’s horsemen are more politically aligned and speak to the opinion of the British government of the 19th century. If we take a look at the descriptors of the horsemen, we can understand their context a bit better.

Murder

Murder had a “mask like Castlereagh,” referring to Viscount Castlereagh Robert Stewart whom was responsible for the imprisonment of the leader of the United Irish rebellion (2.2). He is further described as “very smooth […] yet grim” with “seven bloodhounds [that] followed him” (2.3-4). The seven bloodhounds are symbolic of the seven nations that joined in alliance with Britain: Austria, France, Russia, Prussia, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden; they are further defined by the “human hearts” thrown to them “from [Murder’s] wide cloak,” connoting the damage done to the people of Britain in an emotional context (3.4-5).

Fraud

Fraud is compared to John Scott, Baron Eldon, Lord Chancellor whom deprived Shelley of having contact with his children. In an “ermined gown” Fraud is described as weeping “big tears” that “turned to millstones as they fell” (4.3-4). Below Fraud are little children, “round his feet played to and fro,” who saw his tears as gems but were wronged when they “had their brains knocked out by them” (5.1-2,4).

Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy is compared to Henry Addington, Viscount Sidmouth, former Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was in favor of the Peterloo Massacre and described as applauding the event. Hypocrisy is thus “clothed with the Bible, as with light, / And the shadows of the night” to convey the duality of hypocritical thought (6.1-2). He is described as “on a crocodile,” alluding to “crocodile tears” that serve to represent hypocrisy after the belief that crocodiles weep when they devour their food (6.4).

Anarchy

Anarchy is the last of Shelley’s horsemen, and is representative throughout the remainder of the poem. He is the one that is stopped by the figure that appears to the people to speak on the dangers of revenge and violence. Anarchy “rode / On a white horse, splashed with blood; / He was pale even to the lips, / Like Death in the Apocalypse” (8.1-4). Here is is related specifically to one of the original Biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Death. Anarchy is further described as wearing “a kingly crown, / And in his grasp a sceptre shone” and upon his brow read “‘I am God, and King, and Law’” (9.1-4). His appearance is royal, and clearly is a slight at the British Royal; Shelley’s interpretation of Anarchy depicts how British rule has consequently run over political rights of the people. He is also not compared to any one person, as the other three are, but rather is meant to represent the British government in its whole.

Rise Like Lions After Slumber

Rise like lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number;

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you -

Ye are many, they are few.

The above stanza appears multiple times throughout the poem and seems to anchor the Shelley’s purpose. His message is not to incite a violent revenge but to remind the people that their power comes in their numbers, in unison. He is speaking out against the political oppression, chanting it through his poem with the above stanza. Shelley is deliberately creating a symbolic “Mother” figure, the Mother of “the sons of England,” to warn her children against the violence of revenge: “Then it is to feel revenge / Fiercely thirsting to exchange / Blood for blood and wrong for wrong - / Do not thus when ye are strong” (193-6).

For the second half of the poem, Mother is speaking to the “sons of England” for the purpose illustrated above. Her words connote justice and peace, not revenge and bloodshed:

With folded arms and steady eyes,

And little fear, and less surprise,

Look upon them as they slay,

Till their rage has died away.

Then they will return with shame

To the place from which they came,

And the blood thus shed will speak

In hot blushed on their cheek. (343-351)

She speaks to the strength of words and putting one’s foot down, but not to connote violence and war. Rather, the ones that speak to bloodshed, once their “rage has died away” will be left ashamed, and the blood will show as “hot blushed on their cheek.” Shelley exemplifies this by producing the poem, demonstrating the very words and message he is connoting.

Sourced:

Shelley, Percy. “The Mask of Anarchy.” Romanticism, edited by Duncan Wu, Wiley Blackwell, 2012, pp. 1120-1131.

I Dream About My Cow Sometimes: Looking at Fritz in the Frankenstein Adaptation “Presumption”

Presumption; or The Fate of Frankenstein

Presumption is a play adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that takes a different approach to the traditional story. The permissions of the 19th century impacted the content of the play, and therefore lends to why there is so much spectacle and flair. In the 19th century, adaptations would fall into “illegitimate” theatres - theaters that were not condoned by the Lord Chamberlain and showed drama versus the comedy or dramatic tragedy of the “legitimate theatre.” In order to fit into this personae, the adaptation had to be inclusive of elements such as music, pantomime, and spectacle, in order to show at these alternative theaters.

Presumption includes characters not in the original text, musical numbers, and comedic intervention. “Frankenstein’s servant,” Fritz, is a character not originally crafted by Shelley and is often the comedic relief in contrast to Frankenstein; he serves as his paradox. Another major character divergence from the original text is Elizabeth’s engagement to Clerval. Rather than her relationship with Frankenstein, she remains his sister but is the love interest of Clerval, Frankstein’s friend, thus transforming the Frankenstein/Elizabeth dichotomy that is integral to the understanding of the original text why Frankenstein is the way he is. Furthermore, the Creature plays a very different role as well; he is portrayed in his monstrosity and called the Demon. This categorizes him as other, something else than the rest of the characters, and vilifies him in a way that is not apparent in the original text. It throws a wrench into the theory of Frankenstein and his creation as a reflection of one another, and instead amplifies his monstrosity and creates an evil/hero dichotomy.

The Role of Fritz and His Cow

 Mr. Keeley as Fritz in the 1823  Presumption  adaption of Frankenstein. Via Romantic Circles.

Mr. Keeley as Fritz in the 1823 Presumption adaption of Frankenstein. Via Romantic Circles.

Fritz’s role in Presumption I find very interesting, particularly because he does not exist in the original text. The creation of his character has spurn the typical adaption of Frankenstein and Igor, the modernized version of original adaptions. His comedic relief and interjections serve a purpose that the original text does not illustrate, and plays into the role of theatre. His reception of the other characters is evidently of the fool, and his role is to be the paradox of Frankenstein.

Fritz has a few obsessions that he continuously comes back to in conversation, and even in scenes of action and drama. For this purpose, I want to look at the use of his “cow” in dialogue, and what that constitutes to Fritz. We learn early on that Fritz has moved from his home, in the “country,” from his wife, and in that memory we learn of his cow. He states,“Now, when I was in the country, with my cow (she’s no more now, poor thing!) […],” indicating that his cow has passed (1.1). In the conversation with Clerval, he negates the conversation by returning to his cow again, stating, “Nor my cow neither, poor creter. (Wipes his eyes.) Excuse my crying – she’s defunct, and I always whimper a little when I think on her; and my wife lives away from me, but I don’t care so much for that” (1.1). Here we see that his valued his cow over his wife, and still feels an emotional attachment to his cow even in her death.

So what purpose does his cow serve? Of course we can see how the cow serves as a comedic relief alongside Fritz, but I want to say there’s something else occurring here, too. It could be bought off as an “inside joke” between the play and the audience, something that grows in humor each time it is said - and only those that know the joke would understand its comedic tone. But what can we understand about Fritz from his cow kinship?

We can understand that his cow was female, as according to the New World Encyclopedia the term “cow” situates the gender as feminine rather than the masculine “bull” or emasculated “bullock,” “steer,” or “ox.” From this knowledge, we can infer the relationship Fritz had with his cow over the relationship with his wife - one was prided more than the other, one is missed more than the other. We can also look at cows and human culture, as they have been influential since early prehistoric eras (as depicted in drawings and sculptures). However, cows are also economically and religiously critical:

When I see a cow, it is not an animal to eat, it is a poem of pity for me and I worship it and I shall defend its worship against the whole world. (Mahatma Ghandi)

A Symbiotic Kinship

So what is Fritz’s cow to Fritz? Perhaps because Fritz is cast off as such an “other” character, his relationship with his cow stemmed from the pity he feels for her. In feeling pity for the animal, or connecting on an emotional level, he becomes less “othered” and is a necessity for his cow -his cow needs him as much as he needs his cow. They share a symbiotic relationship of mutualism. So what does it mean that he is away from his cow, albeit dead or not? Well, he becomes the “other” once more unless he can mention his cow. The references to his cow are to maintain that sense of personhood that Fritz so easily loses especially in regards to his paradoxical relationship with Frankenstein.

In the scene between Clerval and Fritz, Clerval gives Fritz money as a bribe to tell him what has occurred. However, Fritz automatically associates the money with that of purchasing a cow immediately at the mention of purchasing a cottage, alluding to personhood once more:

CLER. Yes. Would you like to be master of a cottage?

FRITZ. What, and keep a cow? – the very thing. Why, Mr. Clerval, you’re a conjuror, and know my thoughts by art.

CLER. Fritz, I want to discover – but you must be prudent – (Takes out purse and gives a florin to Fritz.) Here’s an earnest of my future intentions touching the cow and cottage.

FRITZ. Bodikins! a florin! (Examining money.) (1.1)

Not only is Fritz associating human cultural demand with his cow, but monetary fulfillment is equally justified in terms of acquiring a cow. Regardless if this is meant to belittle him, as it does in one aspect, it also empowers his character. Regardless of the atrocities that occur, Fritz will always have that symbiotic kinship with his cow.

References

Peake, Richard Brinsley. Presumption. Romantic Circles, ed. Stephen C. Behrendt, 1823. http://www.rc.umd.edu/editions/peake/index.html.

Frankenstein: Post III of III

Visualizing the Variations: Digital Versions of the Letters of Frankenstein (1818 Version)

  Digital Frankenstein  via the Affiliate Network. 2017.

Digital Frankenstein via the Affiliate Network. 2017.

Below is a data visualization of the text pulled from five different digital versions of the 1818 Frankenstein text. The data covers the text from the letters of Frankenstein and was accumulated into separate plain text files for upload.

The visualization shows us the similarities and variances between each digital version and we are then able to interpret how that specific version may impact our reading of the text.


Juxta

The following links lead to Juxta, a side-by-side juxtaposition tool to compare texts and look at variations. Each link is a comparison of the base text of the letters in Frankenstein and a corresponding text of the same content. The base text I am using is Project Gutenberg’s digital version of Frankenstein.

Project Gutenberg & Internet Archive Org

Project Gutenberg & Romantic Circles

Project Gutenberg & Page by Page Books

Project Gutenberg & The Literature Network

Project Gutenberg & The Literature Page


Voyant

Frankenstein: Post II of III

Frankenstein Texts in Action

 The Bride of Frankenstein via Arc Digital.

The Bride of Frankenstein via Arc Digital.

I will reiterate the texts below that I categorized previously into two groups: collective texts and texts based on separation of letters and chapters.


Addressing The Texts

Within the two groups, they diverge from their own collective in various ways. For example, The Literature Network Frankenstein text lumps the letters together under the title “Letters” similarly to to The Literature Page where the Preface and Letters are lumped together in their own category. This diverges from some of the other text samples, such as Romantic Circles and Page by Page Books where each Letter has its own link, and is therefore categorized on its own. It is also important to not the two of the four texts that are under the categorization of “Separated by Letters Or Chapters” include the portion entitled Walton at the end of the 1818 text.

The breakdown of the 1818 text of Frankenstein via separated as “Preface and Letters” and then individual chapters, no Walton, via The Literature Page.

The breakdown of the 1818 text of Frankenstein via separated letters and chapters, no Walton, via Page by Page Books.

The breakdown of the 1818 text of Frankenstein separated by “Letters” and then individual chapters, with Walton, via The Literature Network.

The breakdown of the 1818 text of Frankenstein via separated letters and chapters, with Walton, via Romantic Circles.

Frankenstein: Post I of III

An Aside

 Front piece to the 1831 edition of Mary Shelley’s  Frankenstein  depicting Frankenstein and the Creature.

Front piece to the 1831 edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein depicting Frankenstein and the Creature.

Over the course of the next couple weeks, I will be using this space (along with the spaces of two other blog posts) to analyze, study, and contextualize the purpose and application of Frankenstein Digital Humanities projects already in progress. This process will allow the pursuit on the conceptualization of the text, how different digital versions of the text impact how we read it, and how this serves as a tool to interpret the text.

By looking at how different archives, sites, and projects have formatted the text, or via plain text, we can begin to interpret how the text performs when read all together or separately, and how this performs within our own analysis of the text.


The Texts

Below are listed some of the different digital versions of the full 1818 text available for public consumption. They are categorized based on how they present the text, either collectively or separated either by paragraph, letter, or chapter: