Last week I saw a movie with a friend (and as we’ll discuss, it’s a good thing I went with a friend and not a date) that managed to get my mind going round and round on some things I haven’t thought about in a while.
For me, this movie, Mary Shelley, was mostly about the way she held onto her dream and found inspiration in unlikely places until she found her own “voice,” a thing with which most writers (myself included) struggle with at some point in their writing lifetimes.
I have been struggling with writing a particular piece and finding my voice to tell it for some time now. In that regard, this movie was extremely inspirational… although I don’t think that’s how it was meant to be taken.
At least, that’s not how it was marketed.
Fair warning, if you go beyond this point, there will be spoilers!!
As you can tell from the trailer, the majority of this movie is about her relationship with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a well-known and celebrated poet who would eventually become her husband. Probably anyone who has made it through Senior English has at least heard the name, and probably because of one poem in particular:
I know it’s probably the only one of his works I remember very well. Had I known that he was such a… free spirit, I would have probably paid more attention to him in class. If the movie is at all accurate, he reminds me of a great many of the men I’ve dated in the past:
Self-centered, unable to be monogamous, irresponsible with his money and quick to blame others when things go wrong, and wildly devoted to his passions, until the new wears off…
It seems to me, that the commenter I talked about in my last post, would have been very critical of Mary for staying with this man.
Indeed, I found myself wondering why she stayed, especially as it is suggested that he is the inspiration for Victor Frankenstein, who is (contrary to how many movies portray him) the actual monster in the story.
Then again, I’ve been her more times than I wish to admit. I’ve been the one who was hurt, heartbroken, and waiting for someone who said they loved me to show they loved me in a way that I understood. The Ex… that was a thing we’d discussed, though, with him, it wasn’t love, he still said that he cared for me and that I just wasn’t noticing it in the ways he was trying to show it. His way of showing and my way of understanding didn’t match up.
Similarly, both Percy Shelley and the Ex were not exactly into the concept of monogamy… And I, similar to Mary Shelley (or as she was portrayed in this movie at least), was okay with it to a point. I didn’t want another lover, and yet I didn’t care if he took on another. I understand that sometimes one partner may have needs that the other cannot fulfill. I once dated a man who was bisexual. There were simply things I could not (or would not) do for him. We had an agreement he could get such things elsewhere. I just wanted to know and be a part of the decision. Percy Shelley and the Ex could not (or would not) be amenable to such a situation.
It’s an old story. Women are made to be faithful, while men usually cannot stand to be tied down. That’s where that whole ball and chain thing comes in: marriage is a man giving up his freedom to be with other women, and their wives are the bad guys for that.
But by the end, Percy has seen the error of his ways… though it’s not exactly explained how, and Mary tells him she wouldn’t have done anything differently.
I think it was meant to be romantic: true love overcoming infidelity and loss… but as someone who has gone through that sort of thing before (many times), it really wasn’t. I felt like that commenter, and I thought to myself that this is not the message we should be promoting.
Hence, why this movie is NOT a good date movie (which is usually how I rate them).
However, the way it
shows suggests that Mary Shelley was able to channel all her anger, sadness, depression, and frustration into the Frankenstein story is inspirational!
I’d heard how she and Percy wrote the story as part of a contest at Lord Byron’s over a weekend, but I was never told that they were there because her half-sister was one of his (apparently) many dalliances! Nor did I know anything of a potential romance between her and another man, the doctor, John Polidori, who was there… and who was the true author of a work that had been credited to Lord Byron for a while: The Vampyre.
I also never knew that Percy Shelley was married before Mary Shelley, or if I did know, I wasn’t aware of his “progressive” views of monogamy. Seems polyamory was a thing even then! Although, as usual, it was a thing expected for the men and not really tolerated for the women, despite what he says early on in the movie.
Mary Shelley’s ability to overcome the heartbreak of his very obvious infidelity, coupled with the pain of losing a child, and the disappointment in learning that the men who surround her (almost entirely poets and writers) are all spouting idealism that basically just allows them to never grow up, is inspiring. She takes a situation that seems unbearable, and, as the truly superior being that she is, she manages to turn all that negativity into something that has withstood the test of time.
That is unbelievably inspiring to me, even though (if I’m honest), the movie doesn’t really do a great job of illustrating just how much of an accomplishment it was for her to write.
The actual writing of the Frankenstein story is almost anticlimactic. We’ve seen so much pain and trauma from her, that when she finally sits down to write it (not at Lord Byron’s over a weekend, like most of us are taught in high school), it feels like just a hodgepodge of ideas and images and quotes thrown at us. I think it’s meant to make us feel the sensation of the words pouring out of her as she locks herself away to complete her magnum opus, but really, it just feels rushed and jumbled.
I was, however, still very inspired by it all. And pair that with the video of Joseph Campbell’s talking about myth that is currently on Netflix, you’ll understand how I’ve suddenly reignited a flame of an old story, one that’s been with me since college.
I’ve tried to write it a couple of times, and always get to about the 30th page, and suddenly it all falls apart. Then, while writing another story in the same universe as the first, I got stuck again.
At the time, a fellow writer/teacher asked me if I thought about combining them and making it into a trilogy… And I thought about it, but couldn’t figure out how to do it, so the stories sat.
Then, just as Mary Shelley was overtaken with the story of Frankenstein, so this story has begun to develop in my mind and suddenly, I think I have the missing pieces to help me actually finish it. Fingers crossed I can get it done this time.
Whether I finish or not, Mary Shelley helped me to realize that those stories we are meant to tell can sometimes only be torn from us after times of great sorrow and frustration. For that reason, this movie will always have a special place for me… though, I must admit, it wasn’t as masterfully done as I’d hoped.