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Remembering Percy Bysshe Shelley

img_6112On July 8, 1882, less than a month shy of his 30th birthday, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned with two companions when his small sailboat encountered a storm off the Northwest coast of Italy.

His wife, Mary Shelley, would claim years later that the custom built boat had a defect in its construction and was not seaworthy, however most experts believe that despite her assertion and other theories involving pirates and assassination plots, a death wish on Shelley’s part, and even an alleged deathbed confession involving a local fisherman claiming to have rammed Shelley’s boat in order to rob him, that it was simply poor seamanship and the severe storm that was responsible for the vessel’s destruction.

Due to his extreme politics for the time, both socially and religiously, and his reckless behavior, Shelley did not find fame or even the widespread publication of his poetry during his lifetime. Fearing charges of blasphemy or sedition for his political and religious views, many publishers refused his work and what was published was done anonymously or for private distribution. His popularity was limited to other poets and literary circles for decades after his death, many of the Romantic, Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite schools, and including the poets Robert Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who are featured prominently in Matthew Pearl’s recent novel, The Dante Chamber.

In 2008, “The Original Frankenstein” was published with Percy Shelley credited as coauthor, given the extensive alterations and contributions he is alleged to have made to Mary Shelley’s story. Some believe the couple conspired to give Mary sole credit for the work despite the bulk of the novel having been written by Percy, however much of the evidence to the support that is dismissed as anecdotal or coincidental.

img_6123After his drowning on July 8, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s body washed ashore and later, according to quarantine regulations, was cremated on the beach near Viareggio. The Funeral of Shelley by Louis Édouard Fournier depicts the cremation of Shelley on the beach with Edward John Trelawny, Leigh Hunt and Lord Byron in the foreground, and Mary Shelley kneeling behind them; despite Mary not being allowed to attend, Hunt remaining in his carriage and Byron leaving early, unable to bear the entire process. Based on the graphic description Trelawny offered later of the condition Shelley’s body was recovered in, this reaction on Byron’s part is not surprising.

Byron later said of his friend, “I never met a man who wasn’t a beast in comparison to him”. This was a more sentimental reaction than the English newspaper The Courier offered when announcing the avowed atheist’s death, “Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned; now he knows whether there is God or no,” because what good is a newspaper if not to have the last word on a man’s tragic death?

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My Monsters

2013-11-12 14.23.48-1I’ve hung them up in two apartments and I can’t imagine a place feeling like home without them.  I’m talking about my monsters.  Three framed drawings by a little kid I don’t even know, who I’m sure I’ll never meet.  They’re perfect.

A couple years ago I was clicking around online and came across an article about a little boy with leukemia.  Similar to Batkid now out in San Francisco in that he’s sick and he’s awesome.  Come on, you can’t hear about a kid like this and not have tears in your eyes. 

Go pull up video of Batkid.  That’s the little boy who, thanks to Make A Wish, is surrounded by hundreds of people cheering him on throughout the city, while he saves a woman tied up by the Riddler and gets to ride around in a freakin Lamborghini Batmobile.  Tell me there aren’t tears.

Monsters at SunsetThat’s how it was when I came across this story.  The kid I read an article on, his name’s Aidan.  He loves monsters.  Drawing them, watching monster movies, making his own costumes.  Which is good, since he spent most of his childhood up until that point in a hospital bed.  Plenty of time to draw monsters.  And I’m talking the classics: Frankenstein’s monsters, the Wolfman, Dracula and Count Orlock.  There’s a difference. 

He got my attention.  If I wasn’t sold on this kid already, seeing pictures of Halloween when he got pulled around in a wagon dressed as Jigsaw’s dummy from Saw so he could trick-or-treat, did the trick.  This kid is awesome. 

I’d just purchased the Legacy set of Frankenstein movies that had a bunch of the old Boris Karloff monster flicks.  Thanks to Netflix I watched the Wolfman, Dracula, the Mummy, Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Invisible Man.  All those great old Universal flicks that started everything.  I also had Monster Squad, one of the greatest movies of my childhood.  At the time it was recently out on DVD and I snagged it.  It takes all those old great horror icons and rolls them together with a Goonies-esque group of kids.  Who doesn’t love this stuff?

Aidan's Monsters

the one in the middle looks just like Kevin

The reason this article on Aidan was out there though was because his aunt, in an attempt to raise some money towards his hospital bills, had taken his drawings and put them up for sale on Etsy.  Not a bad idea.  Well, unless you’re me.  Because now I have to buy one, right?  But how can I choose?  I just went to the site to browse, then I talked myself into buy one.  Then I double-checked my bank balance and decided I could get three.  It’s for a good cause, it’s ok.

I went with the classics.  Wolfman.  Frankenstein’s Monster.  And Dracula.  But not really.  There’s a difference between Dracula and Count Orlock.  You should know.  I’m not going into that.  Why did I ultimately go with Nosferatu over a Universal vampire?  Was it that then all three would be in different colored marker?  Yeah, that’s probably it.  But it may have been that I had to give it to this kid that he knew the ripped off Max Schreck/W.F. Murnau version.  That’s going to be my official position.

But I realize now that my choices were perfect.  Not only did I do something cool by purchasing these, but now I have my monsters, I have a good story to tell about how I ended up with these kid’s drawings framed on my wall.  Oddly enough, these actually represent my two friends and I. 

No, no, hear me out on this: Frankenstein’s monster is covered in scars, but the ones on his hands at first glance look like your typical hash marks for keeping score.  Much like I had to do on New Year’s Eve.  Marks on one hand for bottles of champagne I drank, marks on the other for shots.  Just in case I had to go the hospital.  The Wolfman is obviously Kevin who could probably braid his back hair and can grow a full beard before lunch.  And Nosferatu?  There’s this thing the three of us tend to do now and it came about after we lived together for a few years.  It unquestionably originated with Alan.  When someone comes into the room at night and turns the light on he will hiss and has gone so far as to throw his hands up in front of his face as if clawing at the light.  He started it.  We all do it.  Its reflex now, there’s no stopping it.  Our children will end up doing it.

So not only could I support this great little kid, who has since gone into remission, and his family by buying a few of his drawings, I’ve also, oddly enough, ended up with monster-caricatures of my best friends and I.  Money well spent.

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