Saturday, August 06, 2022

film notes | monsters & money

When I was in my last semester at DePaul getting my MA, I took a class called "Writing As a Women's Profession." It was a strange, chaotic time in which I was moving back to my hometown and trying to finish my degree. I spent the last month and some change commuting into the city (driven to weekly classes by my very gracious parents) because my lease on the studio in Lincoln Park was up at the end of April and I had already moved into that terribly brief apartment near downtown Rockford and was job hunting (which did not work out so well at first.)

So, my focus was not necessarily on those last two classes, that one that met Saturday mornings and a Monday night seminar in Milton that I ended up barely passing because I missed the final due to traffic stand-still near O'Hare. I managed to get my degree nevertheless since I had, up til that point, straight A's in the Milton  but the writing professions class I did do well in, I no doubt would have benefitted from being far more present for than I really was.  We spent a lot of time taking about writing and economics for women, particularly in the 19th century, with authors like Brontes and Kate Chopin and Sarah Orne Jewett. How women traditionally made money out of words, when sometimes words were one of the only ways women of certain classes and stations could acceptably gain anything like financial freedom (and even then not always.) I was thinking of this again when I watched Mary Shelley a few weeks back, a movie that somehow had escaped my notice when it was released. 

The most interesting moment in the film is the morning after the ghost story challenge when Polidori and Shelley encounter Percy and their host, Lord Byron, at the breakfast table after a rough night in which Mary reportedly dreamed her famous monster into being (and in which the Doctor began what would eventually be the story of Dracula). The poets, of course, are hungover and mocking the only two writers who seemed to understand the assignment and produced something solid from the endeavor. Over the next few months, Shelley would expand and develop her story and then, in her initial anonymity, her husband would get credit for it until she revealed herself (but then even some still scarce believed such a masterpiece could be penned by a woman. )

The success of Frankenstein, though, of course helped them where Percy's poetry and debts had mostly not, which was something I had not thought about until this film...the success of her novel granted stability in income the couple had not seen before, and though they were at turns estranged over the course of their 8-year marriage before he drowned in a boating accident, Mary would live another three decades, writing several more books that were eclipsed by her most famous. I've also read before of her assistance to his career, both before and after his death collecting and transcribing, much like the unpaid work of many women writers on behalf of their literary husbands, even while their success in publishing was funding the coffers.  

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