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Today in 1816, Mary Shelley first dreamt of ‘Frankenstein’
06.16.2014
09:44 am

Topics:
Books
Literature

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Frankenstein
Derek Marlowe
Mary Shelley


 
In the wee small hours of the morning, 16th June 1816, Mary Shelley had a terrifying “waking dream” that inspired the creation of her novel Frankenstein. As she described it in her journal:

When I placed my head upon the pillow I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie.

The cause of this haunting reverie had been a discussion between Mary’s lover, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, his lover and half-sister Claire Clairmont (who was then pregnant with his child), and Byron’s doctor John Polidori. They had all traveled to spend a summer together at the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva. Mary was the daughter of radical political philosophers Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, and was the teenage lover of firebrand poet Shelley—with whom she had eloped to Switzerland to visit his friend and fellow poet, Lord Byron. 

It was the year without summer, when the skies were grey with the volcanic ash that had erupted from Mount Tambora the previous year in the Dutch East Indies—it was the largest eruption in 1,300 years, and led to floods, food shortages, and cold, inclement weather across the world. A suitably ominous year for the birth of literature’s monstrous creation—Doctor Victor Frankenstein’s creature—the “Adam of [his] labors.”

Unable to spend time outside, the menage sat late into the evening reading ghost stories to each other. These were taken from Fantasmagoriana, an anthology of German and French horror tales. Then one evening by the flickering log fire, Byron suggested that each member of the group should produce their own tale of horror. This they did, mainly Gothic tales of ghosts and the undead. However, Doctor Polidori surprised the company with The Vampyre, which was eventually published in 1819, and is said to be the first of the vampire genre. But it was Mary Shelley—or Godwin as she was then—who had the greatest and most enduring literary success.
 
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Having struggled to come up with an original tale, Mary was inspired one evening by a discussion on “Galvanism,” the scientific phenomenon discovered by Luigi Galvani, whereby muscles (originally on frogs legs, later corpses) twitched and moved, and seem to come alive, when jolted with an electric current.

As author Derek Marlowe described it in his book A Single Summer With L.B.:

The earlier talk of reanimation and the rekindling of dead matter spun in her mind until without realizing it, she herself experienced in her sleep a grotesque nightmare that was so vivid that she felt it was happening within her very room. She saw a manufactured corpse stretched on the floor, a thin figure kneeling beside it, and then she witnessed the corpse stirring, moving, coming to life.

He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes: behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains and looking on him with yellow, watery but speculative eyes.

Starting up in terror, she was no more comforted when she saw the familiar room, the closed shutters, the dark parquet flooring, the patterned walls, for the vision haunted her still. In vain throughout the night Mary attempted to banish the images from her mind, but they returned constantly, until dawn she realized at last that there was only one thing she could do.

I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.

 
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The shy, eighteen-year-old Mary started writing her story that very day and developed it into a novel during 1817:

It was on a dreary night in November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost mounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light I saw the dull yellow eyes of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a conclusive motion agitated its limbs.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was first published anonymously in an edition of 500 copies of three volumes in January 1818. It proved an immediate success, with a second edition published in 1822. The following year a stage production based on the novel, Presumption; or The Fate of Frankenstein was first produced, which greatly popularized the story, as Mary’s father William Godwin excitedly wrote in this letter:

My dear Mary

I write these few lines, merely to tell you that Frankenstein was acted last night for the first time, & with success. I have therefore ordered 500 copies of the novel to be printed with all dispatch, the whole profits of which, without a penny deduction, shall be your own. 

I am most impatient & anxious to see you, and am ever most affectionately yours

W Godwin

195, Strand,
July 29, 1823.

 
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A revised, more conservative version of Frankenstein was eventually published under Mary’s own name in 1831.

The first movie version of Frankenstein was made in 1910 by Edison Studios. Filmed over three days, the creature was a snaggle-toothed monster with Russell Brand hair. It proved successful, but not as successful as James Whale’s classic film version starring Boris Karloff as the monster in 1931.

From one dream were these wonders so created.

Thomas Edison’s 1910 version:
 

 

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Reflections on Love: Swinging Sixties Pop Candy

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Looking like an advert for Swinging London, Joe Massot’s 1965 short Reflections on Love mixes pop documentary with scenes devised by writer Derek Marlowe and (apparently) an uncredited, Larry Kramer. Though everything looks rather beautiful, it is such a terribly straight film, and considering the talent involved, and doesn’t really offer much love for the audience to reflect on. Then, this was the Sixties, when everything was new and exciting, and getting hitched in a registry office was daring and rad. O, how innocent it all seems. Massot went on to direct George Harrison’s Wonderwall and later, Led Zeppelin’s concert film The Song Remains the Same. Kramer went on to script Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1967), and Ken Russell’s Women in Love (1969), before writing his novel Faggots in 1978. As for Marlowe, he wrote the classic double-agent spy thriller, A Dandy in Aspic, and followed this up with a series of idiosyncratic and stylish novels (from crime to Voodoo to Lord Byron), which are all shamefully out-of-print, and not even available as e-books - publishers please note.

The original version was twenty-one minutes long, and this is the revamped, re-scored (by Kula Shaker), re-edited (12 minutes) re-release from 1999, and still watchable pop-candy.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

A Dandy in Aspic: A letter form Derek Marlowe


Wonderwall: The Ultimate Sixties Flick?


Wonderwall Music: George Harrison’s little-known 1968 solo album


 

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‘Little Malcolm’: George Harrison’s lost film starring John Hurt and David Warner

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A “lost” film produced from “top to bottom” by George Harrison, has been rediscovered and released on DVD by the British Film Institute. Little Malcolm was made in 1973, and starred John Hurt, David Warner,  John McEnery, Raymond Platt and Rosalind Ayres. Based on the play Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs by David Halliwell, it was Harrison’s first film as producer, and one that was thought long lost, as director by Stuart Cooper explained in an interview with the Guardian:

“George never said this to me,” says Cooper, “but I definitely got the feeling that Little Malcolm may have been the first and last time George ever went to a play. But he was a big, big fan of it and also a big fan of [its star] Johnny Hurt, so he was in our corner already. Also, at the time, the other Beatles all had a film gig, John had done Imagine, Paul, I guess, directed Magical Mystery Tour, and Ringo was in Candy and The Magic Christian. So the only one without a film gig was George. He financed Malcolm through a company called Suba Films, which existed solely to receive profits from the animated Yellow Submarine. It was financed entirely by Yellow Submarine! It wasn’t a big budget, somewhere around a million, million and a half pounds – not expensive. He financed it top to bottom. He stepped up, wrote the cheque, and we made the movie.”

Little Malcolm is the story of Malcolm Scrawdyke (Hurt), a delusional Hitlerite revolutionary, who plots his revenge after his expulsion form college, by forming the Party of Dynamic Erection, with fellow slackers, Wick (McEnery), Irwin (Platt) and Nipple (Warner). Malcolm’s battle is against an unseen enemy, and the film is a mix of Young Adolf meets Baader-Meinhof via Billy Liar.

Halliwell wrote Little Malcolm in 1965, it was his first and most successful play. Directed by Mike Leigh, the role of Malcolm was originally played by Halliwell, who explained his thoughts behind the drama at the time:

“The Nazis made a big impression on people of my age, they almost destroyed Europe. But as well as being pretty threatening they were also seen as a laughing stock even during the war.”

The play’s director, Mike Leigh had a different view of Halliwell and the production, as he wrote for Halliwell’s obituary in 2006:

David Halliwell was a loner. He lived alone and, typically, it seems he died alone. Indeed, his eponymous loner, Little Malcolm Scrawdyke, was in many ways a self-portrait, although David always denied this. Having met at Rada and become close friends, he and I founded Dramagraph with Philip Martin in 1965, and I directed and designed our original production of Little Malcolm at Unity Theatre. David played Scrawdyke. He was impossible to direct, resisted cuts, and the production was famously overlong and unwieldy. But it was and remains a magnificent piece of writing, and it is truly tragic that this quite brilliant and original dramatist procrastinated for the remaining 40 years of his life.

Halliwell didn’t really procrastinate, he was a prolific writer, who, as Michael Billington also pointed out:

...pioneered the idea of lunchtime theatre and multi-viewpoint drama and left his mark on several close collaborators, including Mike Leigh.

Unfortunately, through his determination to do things his way, Halliwell never fully developed his ideas, and as Billington noted, “Halliwell suffered the fate of the pioneer whose ideas are refined and improved by later practitioners”.

Originally Little Malcolm ran for 6 hours, but after subbing by Leigh, it transferred to London’s West End, where John Hurt took over the title role - it was a career defining performance - one of many in Hurt’s case - and after a short run, moved to Dublin and New York. The play won Halliwell a Most Promising Newcomer Award, and also attracted Harrison’s interest, enough for the Beatle to bank roll the movie. But once made, the film was caught up in The Beatles’ acrimonious split, as Cooper explained:

“In the end, we got hung up by the Beatles’ breakup, when all of the Apple and Beatles assets went into the official receiver’s hands. So Little Malcolm just basically sat there for a couple of years. Whatever heat and buzz we generated was all lost. It didn’t diminish the movie but it stopped the momentum. George had to fight to get it back.

“Berlin was the first airing we managed, but it won best direction and the response was incredible. We got great reviews from Alexander Walker and Margaret Hinxman, but by then it really didn’t have any legs. It was a film that got lost, and I had to put it on a shelf and say to myself, well, there might be a day for that one day – and here we are now, after so many years.”

In 1974, Little Malcolm won the Silver Bear at Berlin Film festival. It was Cooper’s first, he won a second in 1975 with Overlord before directing Hurt, Warner and Donald Sutherland in the film version of Derek Marlowe‘s The Disappearance in 1977.

Harrison was certainly an innovator as Little Malcolm and his later movies Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and The Long Good Friday proved. Now, nearly forty years after its first screening, Harrison’s “lost” first film as producer is available at last.
 

 

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Writers’ Bloc: Places where writers and artists have lived together

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Home is where the art is for four different groups of writers, who lived and worked together under one roof, experiencing a cultural time-share that produced diverse and original works of literature, art, and popular entertainment.
 
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The February House

Between 1940 and 1942, “an entire generation of Western culture” lived at 7 Middagh Street, Brooklyn. The poet W. H. Auden was house mother, who collected rents and doled out toilet paper, at 2 sheets for each of his fellow tenants, advising them to use “both sides”. These tenants included legendary stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee, novelist Carson McCullers and a host of other irregular visitors - composer Benjamin Britten, singer Peter Pears, writers Jane and Paul Bowles and Erika and Klaus Mann, Salvador Dali, a selection of stevedores, sailors, circus acts and a chimpanzee.

Auden wrote his brilliant poem New Year Letter here and fell obsessively in love with Chester Kallman, and attempted to strangle him one hot, summer night - an event that taught Auden the universal potential for evil. On the top floor, Carson McCullers escaped from her psychotic husband, and wrote Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Member of the Wedding, while slowly drinking herself to an early death.

On the first floor, Gypsy Rose Lee created her legend as the world’s most famous stripper, wrote her thriller The G-String Murders, offered a shoulder to cry on, and told outrageous tales of her burlesque life.

Known as the “February House”, because of the number of birthdays shared during that month, 7 Middagh St. was a place of comfort and hope in the desperate months at the start of the Second World War.
 
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The Fun Factory

The scripts that came out of 9 Orme Court in London, changed world comedy. And if Spike Milligan hadn’t gone mad and attempted to murder Peter Sellers with a potato peeler, it may never have all happened.

Milligan was the comic genius behind The Goons, and the stress of writing a new script every week, led to his breakdown. The need for a place to work, away from the demands of family, home and fame, brought Milligan to share an office with highly successful radio scriptwriter, Eric Sykes. 

The first Fun Factory was above a greengrocer on the Uxbridge Road. Here Sykes, Milligan, comedian Frankie Howerd and agent Scruffy Dale, formed the Writers’ Bloc Associated London Scripts. The idea was to bring together the best and newest comedy writers under one umbrella. Milligan saw ALS as an artists’ commune that would lead to political and cultural change. Sykes saw ALS as a business opportunity to produce great comedy. Frankie Howerd saw it as a source of finding new material.

When Milligan asked two young writers, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson to come on board, the central core of ALS was formed.

This merry band of writers expanded in the coming years to include: Johnny Speight (Till Death Us Do Part); Barry Took and Marty Feldman (The Army Game and Round the Horne); Terry Nation (Dr Who and the Daleks); John Antrobus (The Bed-Sitting Room); and with a move to the more suitable offices of 9 Orme Court, ALS was established as the home of legendary British comedy.

Milligan continued successfully with The Goons, before devising the groundbreaking Q series for television. Sykes began his long and successful career with his own TV show. While Galton and Simpson created the first British TV sitcom, Hancock’s Half-Hour, and then the massively influential Steptoe and Son.

9 Orme Court was once described, as though Plato, Aristotle, Galileo and Leonardo Da Vinci were all living in the same artist’s garret.
 
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The Beat Hotel

A run-down hotel in the back streets of Paris was unlikely setting for a Cultural Revolution, but the Sixties were seeded when poet, Allen Ginsberg William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and Bryon Gysin moved into the Beat Hotel, at 9 Git le Coeur, in the late 1950s.

The literary revolution that started with Ginsberg’s Howl in America was formalised and expanded in the cramped, leaky, piss-smelling hotel rooms at 9 Git le Couer.

Ginsberg wrote part of Kaddish here, as he came to terms with the madness and death of his Mother. First to arrive, Ginsberg was also be first to check out, travelling in search of enlightenment to India. 

The wild and romantic Corso produced his best books of poems “Gasoline” and “Bomb”, whilst living the life of an American abroad.

But it was Burroughs who gained most from his four-year on-and-off stay in Git le Coeur.  Here he completed Naked Lunch, and wrote the novels The Soft Machine, The Nova Express, The Ticket that Exploded, and together with Bryon Gysin devised the cut-up form of writing, indulged in seances, Black Magic and tried out Scientology.

Like Middagh Street, the Beat Hotel was a cultural and social experiment that sought to inspire art through shared experiences. 
 
Passport from Pimlico

It started with a bet. Three young writers sitting watching Mick Jagger on Top of the Pops, in a flat in Pimlico during the 1960s. The bet was simple, which of the 3 would make the big time first?

It was the kind of idle chat once made soon forgotten, but not for these 3 young talents, Tom Stoppard, Derek Marlowe and Piers Paul Read.

Read and Marlowe believed Stoppard would hit the big time first, but they were wrong, it was Marlowe in 1966 with his cool and brilliant spy thriller A Dandy in Aspic, made into a film with Laurence Harvey, Mia Farrow, Tom Courtney and Peter Cook.

Stoppard was next in 1967, with his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Then Read with Alive the story of Andes plane crash in 1974.

All 3 were outsiders, set apart from their contemporaries by their romanticized sense of Englishness, which came from their backgrounds. Read was a brilliant Catholic author, favorably compared to Graham Greene; Stoppard, a Czech-émigré, and Marlowe, a second generation Greek, who was for “heroes, though if not Lancelot or Tristan, heroes” who appeared “out of the mould of the time.” All three writers were to become the biggest British talents of the 1970s and 1980s.
 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

A Dandy in Aspic: A letter from Derek Marlowe


 

 

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A Dandy in Aspic - A Letter from Derek Marlowe

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I originally wrote this elsewhere, but want to share it, in remembrance of a great writer, Derek Marlowe, who died today in 1996.

Marlowe was the author of nine novels, ranging form the Cold War spy thriller A Dandy in Aspic, the historical A Single Summer With L.B., about Byron, Shelley and the creation of monsters and the partially autobiographical The Rich Boy from Chicago. Marlowe started as a playwright, before moving to prose.

When I interviewed him in 1984, Marlowe told me the story of how his career really started with a bet. A bet between three young writers, who lived together in a flat in London. Nothing unusual there, except these young writers were Tom Stoppard, Piers Paul Read and Derek Marlowe. One day, as they watched Mick Jagger on Top of the Pops, the three wagered a bet on who would make a million first.  It was decided Stoppard would, but Marlowe pipped him to it, with his first novel, A Dandy in Aspic.

I started reading Marlowe in my early teens and he focussed my thoughts about writing. This then is the story of a fan letter I wrote Marlowe and his reply.

Someone, somewhere, has probably written a thesis on fan letters, showing how the turn of phrase, spelling, sentence structure and language, reveal the psychology of the writer.  I can guess the flaws my three or four fan letters reveal about me, both good and bad.  That said, the replies always pleased - a signed photograph, a message from a secretary, a written response.  The reply that meant so much to me came from the brilliant author, Derek Marlowe.

Marlowe inspired me to see the beauty of writing and the power a novelist has in telling their tale.  His books took me away from the comfort of Sherlock Holmes, Alistair MacLean, and the dog-eared ghost stories, into a world of shifting ambiguity, complex relationships, through his dark, witty stories told in his remarkable style.

Marlowe’s response to my Biro scribbled missive was a typed, two page letter, in lower case and capitals.  It is a letter I cherish, for it gave me a sense of what can be made of a life. Derek Marlowe was more than just a novelist, he was a successful playwright, a screenwriter, and an award-winning writer for television.  In the letter he explained how he had started his career after being sent down from University:

“I was thrown out of Queen Mary College, London, for editing and writing an article in the college magazine.  The article was a parody of The Catcher in the Rye reflecting the boredom of college seminars.  Not very funny or special but times were odd then. Besides, I hated University and I think I’d made that rather too clear.

“I began writing plays since I had started a play for the College which took a surprising course.  Continued with plays for about four years, went to Berlin, came back and then I realised, after writing A Dandy in Aspic (I was then a clerk) that I preferred prose to theatre. Besides, the person I was sharing the flat with and had done for six years, seemed better at theatre than me.  He was and is Tom Stoppard.”

Marlowe’s first novel A Dandy in Aspic, published in 1966, was the story of a double-agent, Eberlin, sent on a mission to assassinate his alter ego.  Dandy, as the jacket blurb said:

After a beautifully arresting plunge-in, a spy is assigned - savage irony! - to hunt himself down. And now, hot on his own trail…

Dandy fitted into the sixties’ pre-occupation with suave secret agents and was made into a so-so film starring Laurence Harvey, Mia Farrow, Tom Courtney and Peter Cook, of which Marlowe wrote:

“Regarding the film Dandy..  The director, Anthony Mann died during the filming (a superb man and great director) and it was taken over by Laurence Harvey, the badly cast Eberlin.  He directed his own mis-talent, changed it and the script - which is rather like Mona Lisa touching up he portrait while Leonardo is out of the room.”

 
More on Derek Marlowe, plus bonus clip after the jump…
 

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