Frankenstein in Austenland

News alert from Bath: Frankenstein is coming to Austenland.

No, I’m not talking about another mashup between a Jane Austen novel and a horror thriller but rather about plans afoot in the city of Bath to create a museum honoring Mary Shelley’s creation.

Casting about on the internet while researching Jane Austen, I often find such interesting topics that deserve notice, though not necessarily a blog onto themselves. The Frankenstein story is one of them. After it, I’ll serve up a few other dishes related to women and writing.

First up is that the city of Bath, hitherto the sole province of Austen, is opening a museum dedicated to Mary Shelley and her book Frankenstein. (Image above is from my mid-1960 copy of the novel.)

Shelley, the daughter of feminist firebrand Mary Wollstonecraft and soon-to-be wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, lived in Bath’s Abbey Churchyard when she wrote the novel. Frankenstein is one part science-fiction novel—considered the first—and one part traditional gothic. (There is a pun in there somewhere involving body parts.)

Austen’s own Northanger Abbey is set in Bath and parodies the gothic novel, which was popular when Austen wrote the novel in the early 1800s but not when it was published in 1817.

Many of the most popular books of the nineteenth century, however, had a gothic origin: Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818); Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847), in which a forbidding castle is replaced by a remote house on a windswept heath; Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, (1847), which features the gothic motif of the wronged woman held prisoner in a frightening house; Wilkie Collins’ Woman in White (1865), considered the first mystery novel and this time with an innocent woman locked in an insane asylum; and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), which takes us back to frightful castles in remote locales.

Frankenstein arose as the consequence of a competition among Mary, Percy, and the poet Lord Byron, to see who could write the best horror story. The German setting likely came from the couple’s travels along the Rhine in 1815. Mary’s museum will be just down the street from the Jane Austen Centre on Gay Street. Perhaps the new museum will create a wax figure of the monster to meet the wax figure of Jane.

Moving from a city street in Bath to one in London, here’s a story involving five iconic women writers who all lived in the same square but at different times. The five wrote on radically different topics, ranging from poetry to serious novels to detective fiction to anthropology to politics. Some came at the start of their careers; some came near the end. But during two world wars, Mecklenburgh Square played a major role in their lives and writing.

In a period of a pandemic, we can find out why modern readers are drawn to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Though the novel presents ordinary life as the title character prepares for a party, one undercurrent involves the recent worldwide flu pandemic. Woolf’s mother died because of an earlier influenza, and Woolf herself suffered from several flu infections from 1916 to 1925.

Finally, back to Austen. Most readers know that Jane was not the shining female literary star of her age. She was eclipsed by Fanny Burney, whom we discussed last month, and by Maria Edgeworth, who wrote realistic but moralistic novels. Austen praises Edgeworth in her books and letters and even sent her a copy of Emma. Edgeworth in turn offered different opinions of Austen’s novels. Linda Bree talks about the connections between the two authors.

The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, which traces love from a charming courtship through the richness and complexity of marriage and concludes with a test of the heroine’s courage and moral convictions, is now complete and available from Amazon and Jane Austen Books.


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