Thoughts on The Last Man

I’m a touch behind the curve on this one, but I wanted to get my thoughts down nonetheless.  Mary Shelley’s The Last Man laid the groundwork for all the post-apocalyptic sci-fi novels which have been written in the nearly two centuries since.

The novel’s prose is a bit thick and it’s relatively long (although not Robert Jordan-esque by any stretch), but it’s worth the slog.  The obvious themes explored by Shelley are loss and the failure of what we’d call Romantic ideals.  What I’d like to focus on is how humankind doesn’t make it.  In a novel in which we find only the eponymous last man survives, we know that everyone else isn’t going to make it.  How Shelley does it deserves attention.

Side note:  is there some value to mapping Shelley’s novel to Y: the Last Man?  The difference is the survival of women.

Shelley focuses on the women who die.  From the suicide drowning of protagonist Lionel Verney’s sister Perdita (the “lost one” being aptly named) to Evadne dying when the scene shifts to the gates of Athens, to Juliet, killed when she reveals the impostor’s truth, Shelley seems to be suggesting that humankind is doomed without its women.  A lack of feminine guidance (the death of his mother and separation from Elizabeth while in Ingolstadt) leads to Victor Frankenstein making poor choices in Shelley’s most popular work.  None of the significant women survive that novel, either.  Shelley, whose mother wrote Vindication of the Rights of Women, may in both Frankenstein and The Last Man, be leveraging the new-for-her-time idea that from more than just a biological standpoint, the way forward for humankind is the successful pairing and partnering of man and woman.

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(Literally) Constructing Gender in Frankenstein Adaptations

 

This week’s theme was adaptations, to include the 1823 play “Presumption” by Richard Brinsley Peake, a melodramatic production heavy on the show tunes and with plenty of gypsies.  There’s even a comedic moment with a duck.  It’s almost if Mel Brooks channeled Peake 150 years later.

Dr. Frankenstein has gone mad by the time the curtain lifts on the first act, having lost himself in “the alchemical art.”  The (potential) bride of Frankenstein in this version is his lost love, Agatha, who he pines for in soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 3, and with Elizabeth in Act 2, Scene 1.  We find out that the loss of Agatha, a beautiful Arabian girl, is what drove him to “deep and fatal experiments.”  The idea of reuniting with her brings him some hope.  Unfortunately, she will become a victim of the creature, although its motivation for killing her is vague, unlike in Shelley’s novel.  With Agatha gone, Frankenstein kills himself and the monster in an avalanche.

In both life and death, her role in the play is as a source of Frankenstein’s angst.  Like the other women in the play, she exists only as far as the reflection or mood of one of the male characters, save perhaps the maid Ninon.  The significant women in the play, Elizabeth, Safie, and Ninon, all start or end up married, reflecting the loss of a similar happiness to Frankenstein and Agatha.  This becomes not only his reason to want to kill the monster, but himself.

We know a great deal of what we know about the Frankenstein mythos from James Whale’s classic films Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).  While there is some consideration of gender construction in the former, it is in the latter’s divergence from the novel (or, as the film’s plot suggests, Shelley’s own revision of the story) we find literal gender construction.  It is in the movement from Elsa Lanchester as Shelley and then the Bride we see the transformation from an idealized view of a high society woman into something quite alien.

In the first shot, Shelley is at once demure and alluring, sexualized innocence which obfuscates smoldering intensity.

Elsa Lanchester Mary Shelley

 

What we have in the bride is not so much monstrous as alien.  The bride’s features are exaggerated versions of Shelley’s, the intensity now revealed.  She transfixes everyone, from the monster to (now Henry) Frankenstein to the eerie Dr. Pretorius.  She develops agency by rejecting her arranged marriage, a decision for which she pays in the monster’s murder-suicide.  In 1935, women expressing willpower must be dealt with in no uncertain terms.

Elsa Lanchester Bride

 

In Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), Helena Bonham Carter’s Elizabeth is much like Lanchester’s with a touch more melancholy thrown in.

 

Carter Elizabeth

It is Elizabeth who becomes the bride after the monster kills her, as Victor attempts to recover his love, but she is a disfigured version of her old self due to his reconstruction efforts.

Carter Bride

Realizing her monstrosity in her similarity to Robert De Niro’s “sharp-featured man,” she expresses agency in a more modern fashion.  As Victor and the monster argue and battle over who she belongs to, she defines ownership—by immolating herself.  In final death, she claims a power she did not have in life.

Feminine agency in Frankenstein and its many adaptations is an arena worthy of study, and it’s down that road that we’ll head in future weeks.

 

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein:  What I Went in Search Of and What I Found

Jolene Zagarovich writes that “the intersection of Gothic literature with gender studies has a lengthy history” (260), which might be a bit of an understatement.  Because Shelley’s novel is well-examined in the fields of both feminist theory and gender studies, I initially looked toward representations of female gender identity as I undertook reading the work.  It seemed like a path that, though well-traveled, might yield a hidden trail.  Passages like “[Elizabeth] was docile and good-tempered, yet gay and playful as a summer insect” (65) immediately leap off the page.  Elizabeth transforms later in Victor’s eyes from “a pretty, good-natured girl, whom everyone loved and caressed” into “a woman in stature and expression of countenance, which was uncommonly lovely” (107).  I put a pin in this transformation, noting the movement from the behavioral (which is performative) to the visual.  Certainly, in a novel in which the tragic figure is considered visually repugnant, there was an opening to explore.  When his creation wakens, Victor immediately recoils, exclaiming that “the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (84, emphasis mine).  There had to be something in this space between the visual and the performative.

I found the stirrings of an answer in Susan Stryker’s remarkable and foundational essay/performance “My Words to Victor Frankenstein above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage.”  Stryker writes

The monster problematizes gender partly through its failure as a viable subject in the visual field; though referred to as “he,” it thus offers a feminine, and potentially feminist, resistance to definition by a phallicized scopophilia. The monster accomplishes this resistance by mastering language in order to claim a position as a speaking subject and enact verbally the very subjectivity denied it in the specular realm (241).

I quickly scribbled “The Looked at and the Heard” in my notebook.  The power of language in sculpting behavior and identity is an area worthy of research, one I intend to pursue.  There is work in the monster’s exhortation to “hear me, before you give vent to your hatred on my devoted head” (126).  But that’s not the only place Stryker’s essay got me.

In my first graduate paper, I used the term “gender superposition,” borrowing from quantum theory the idea that a bit can be not just on or off, but in both and neither positions simultaneously.  I was describing Malcolm McDowell’s portrayal of Alex De Large in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), although I may have first used the term in an undergrad paper describing Constantia in Charles Brockden Brown’s Ormond or the Secret Witness.  It occurred to me while reading Stryker’s essay that recognition of the superposition still links oneself to the binary.  This may be fine when focusing on electromagnetic fields.  When discussing human identity, however, we might consider on, off, and both/neither as viable points on a continuum, but we must also consider that there is an infinite amount of space in between.

 

Works Cited

Shelley, Mary.  Frankenstein.  Edited by D.L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf.  Broadview, 1999.

Stryker, Susan.  “My Words to Victor Frankenstein above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol. 1, no. 3, 1994, pp. 237–54. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.lib.usf.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mzh&AN=1994050153&site=eds-live.

Zigarovich, Jolene. “The Trans Legacy of Frankenstein.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 45, no. 2, 2018, pp. 260–272. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5621/sciefictstud.45.2.0260.

 

Keats and Hunt and Robin Hood

Contemporaries John Keats and Leigh Hunt both wrote poems in 1820 examining the Robin Hood legend, an almost-compulsory exercise for Romantic British poets.  For contemporaries and members of the same literary circles, their takes on the legend ring as radically different.  While Hunt’s is celebratory of an idealized time-that-never-was, Keats’ is more introspective.  Keats also longs for that idealized past, but suggests it as a time-that-is-not-now.

Pieces like Hunt’s pre-figured 20th century views of the legend.  In Michael Curtiz and William Keighley’s The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, and Basil Rathbone, we are treated to a vision of Hunt’s idealized time, which would inform retellings of the tale for more than half a century.  For certain, the plucky hero must overcome the evil of the Sherriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper), his flunky Guy of Gisbourne (Rathbone), and the usurping Prince John (Claude Rains), but the film’s tenor is constantly upbeat.  The evil-doers are simply the obstacles for the heroes to overcome.  Consider the demeanor of the principles in the film’s poster:

Flynn Robin Hood

The serious moments of the film are reduced to afterthoughts in diminished size, dominated by the rakish smile of Flynn and de Havilland’s luminescence.  The lighting is bright and uplifting.  We know from the start that the forces of good will triumph in this tale.

Compare to the poster for Kevin Reynold’s 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Morgan Freeman, and the unforgettable Alan Rickman.

Costner Robin Hood

Costner’s Robin Hood is brooding, intense, and serious.  A dramatic moment is brought to the fore as Robin aims a flaming arrow.  We find Robin and Marian silhouetted at the bottom of the frame, framed by the only light, still shadowy, in the engulfing darkness.  It is a Hollywood film, so we can easily predict that the heroes will triumph (and do, thanks in part to an uncredited Sean Connery appearance), but the poster’s mood and the ensuing film capture that darkness.  Compare also the actors in the lead female role.  De Havilland’s radiant and soft Marian contrasts with the dark, somewhat dangerous, nearly-othered version played by Mastrantonio.  The costs of the struggle are not as easily paid as in the 1938 version.  Even the film’s comedic moments, like Rickman’s famous “spoon” scene, are tinged with danger.  Like Keats’ piece, the film laments the loss of the halcyon days spent in the greenwood, but acknowledges that the life the outlaws live is brutal and anything but idealistic. Moreover, they must eventually return to the “real” world and its difficulties.  As Keats writes, his resurrected Marian would cry at the idea that “honey can’t be got without hard money” (47-48).   The de Havilland Marian might; the Mastrantonio Marian will hike up her skirts and get that money.

Yet there is still hope in Keats’ piece, included in a letter he wrote to friend John Reynolds.  “Though their days have hurried by / Let us two a burden try” (61-62), he writes, encouraging Reynolds to perhaps attempt to recapture such a time.  As Thomas Mitchell has written, the piece “came to represent for Keats both a condemnation of the invidiously seductive powers of ‘hard cash’ and a defiant determination to create a poetry that would resist that world by remaining faithful to the poetic and political spirit” that the Robin Hood legend symbolized (766).  Keats bridges idealism and practicality.  He can mourn for the world that never was while still endeavoring to build the one he wishes to see.

 

Works Cited

Mitchell, Thomas R. Keats’s “Outlawry” in “Robin Hood.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 34, no. 4, 1994, pp. 753-769.  JSTOR, Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/450869.  Accessed 15 September 2018.

 

 

More on the Luddite Songs

The following encapsulates a presentation I was to give, but said presentation was OBE (overcome by events, for you folks without military experience).  Here is the part and parcel of it:

Goals

  • Visually analyze the Luddites texts as a corpus
    • Explore the use of text visualization tools like Voyant
  • Use visual analysis as a springboard to traditional analysis
  • Focus on a piece or a passage suggested by the tools
  • See where things go

The Literature

Byron, Song for the Luddites

Byron, An Ode to the Framers of the Bill

Anonymous, The Cropper’s Song

Anonymous, Horsfall’s Mill

Anonymous, General Ludd’s Triumph

Taylor, Distress of the Poor

Findings

  • The field (discipline?) of text visualization is broad
  • 1180 words is hardly a corpus
  • Visualization is itself an art form

The word that leapt out from the cloud (see previous posts’s images) was lads.  Words like cropper and broke and frames were expected in Luddite work.  Further examination revealed that most of the instances of the word lads were in The Cropper’s Song (14 of 17).  It was part of the song’s refrain, which rendered it less interesting, so I moved on to the instance in Byron’s Song for the Luddites and a touch of traditional analysis.

As the Liberty lads o’er the sea

Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood,

So we, boys, we

Will die fighting, or live free,

And down with all kings but King Ludd!

When the web that we weave is complete,

And the shuttle exchanged for the sword,

We will fling the winding-sheet

O’er the despot at our feet,

And dye it deep in the gore he has pour’d.

Though black as his heart its hue,

Since his veins are corrupted to mud,

Yet this is the dew

Which the tree shall renew

Of Liberty, planted by Ludd!

The word is in the first line and the alliteration of “Liberty lads” draws attention to the direction the piece is heading.

There’s the obvious allusion to Jefferson: “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. it is it’s natural manure.”  (Source: The Jefferson Monticello).  The rhymes with Ludd (mud, blood) are more than just sound, they depict the poorness and desperation of the Luddite movement.  The are in the mud (the mire of poverty caused by the loss of their trade) as well as of the mud (honest tradesmen, whose work is tied closely to the land).  Blood’s dual meanings are expressed as well–the necessity of the tradesmen’s work for the body politic to prosper and the violence to which they have been brought.

Liberty in first and last lines bounds the activities within.  The term indicates that the cause of the Luddites, like the American Revolution, is to break away from the oppression that limits freedom.

Using some of the tools from the site Language is a Virus offered a new look at the text.  The reversal tool, for example, yielded:

Ludd!
by planted Liberty, renew
Of shall tree the dew
Which the is this mud,
Yet to corrupted are veins his hue,
Since its heart his as black pour’d.
Though has he gore the in deep it dye feet,
And our at despot the winding-sheet
O’er the fling will sword,
We the for exchanged shuttle the complete,
And is weave we that web the Ludd!
When King but kings all with down free,
And live or fighting, die we
Will boys, we, blood,
So with cheaply, and freedom, their sea
Bought the o’er lads Liberty the As.

It looked mostly like gibberish, but there may be something to find in the line end rhymes which the tool choose to maintain (dew/renew; feet/sheet).  As the purpose of the exercise was to continue exploring, that’s what I did, this time with the cut-up tool, a la Burroughs and the Dadaists.  The first run through gave us

by shall will for live kings this our are its is down shuttle We feet corrupted the hue So to at Though King has sword Liberty the planted with that die the tree fling When the with And heart the the Yet exchanged pour’d Which he blood the we their boys Will we complete renew Since deep all it black we as sheet is but Bought and the Ludd fighting his Liberty Ludd web dew gore freedom Of dye or As cheaply mud O’er free sea o’er his despot in lads the And winding the And veins weave

and the second one

sword lads Ludd And deep complete sea kings Liberty Ludd has their Which shall Bought the we tree free And boys die dye the down and sheet dew to with the is black with that by our will Since freedom the we we corrupted Liberty in exchanged shuttle Yet pour’d gore his web all feet So the live heart Though for are the the cheaply weave Of is despot this renew We the When As the its King fighting the hue blood or at And he fling it mud veins O’er but Will o’er his winding as planted

Taking the text out of its original order allows us to find individual words that we might gloss over in traditional readings.  Our brains understand how our language operates so that we often know what’s coming next in a sentence.  Breaking out of the standard pattern of how the language and its speech operates allows us to find individual nuggets like “corrupted the hue,” which may lead us to see the color imagery words scattered throughout and ask if blood is one of them.

I moved on to playing around with some visual poetry courtesy of wordclouds.com, such as the tree image.

Conclusions

  • Visualization is primarily a tool for exploration, not explanation.
  • Visualization tools recognize patterns normal reading might miss.
  • Visualization is be an aid to traditional analysis while opening new analysis avenues.

 

Songs of the Luddites

BYRON

SONG FOR THE LUDDITES

As the Liberty lads o’er the sea

Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood,

So we, boys, we

Will die fighting, or live free,

And down with all kings but King Ludd!

When the web that we weave is complete,

And the shuttle exchanged for the sword,

We will fling the winding-sheet

O’er the despot at our feet,

And dye it deep in the gore he has pour’d.

Though black as his heart its hue,

Since his veins are corrupted to mud,

Yet this is the dew

Which the tree shall renew

Of Liberty, planted by Ludd!

_____________________________

BYRON

AN ODE TO THE FRAMERS OF THE FRAME BILL

[The Morning Chronicle, Mar. 2, 1812]

Oh well done Lord E—n! and better Lord R—r!

Britannia must prosper with councils like yours;

HAWKESBURY, HARROWBY, help you to guide her,

Whose remedy only must kill ere it cures:

Those villains, the Weavers, are all grown refractory,

Asking some succour for Charity’s sake–

So hang them in clusters round each Manufactory,

That will at once put an end to mistake.

The rascals, perhaps, may betake them to robbing,

The dogs to be sure have got nothing to eat–

So if we can hang them for breaking a bobbin,

‘Twill save all the Government’s money and meat:

Men are more easily made than machinery–

Stockings fetch better prices than lives–

Gibbets on Sherwood will heighten the scenery,

Showing how Commerce, how Liberty thrives!

Justice is now in pursuit of the wretches,

Grenadiers, Volunteers, Bow-street Police,

Twenty-two Regiments, a score of Jack Ketches,

Three of the Quorum and two of the Peace;

Some Lords, to be sure, would have summoned the Judges,

To take their opinion, but that they ne’er shall,

For LIVERPOOL such a concession begrudges,

So now they’re condemned by no Judges at all.

Some folks for certain have thought it was shocking,

When Famine appeals, and when Poverty groans,

That life should be valued at less than a stocking,

And breaking of frames lead to breaking of bones.

If it should prove so, I trust, by this token,

(And who will refuse to partake in the hope?)

That the frames of the fools may be first to be broken,

Who, when asked for a remedy, sent down a rope.

 

ANON.

THE CROPPER’S SONG

Come, cropper lads of high renown,

Who love to drink good ale that’s brown,

And strike each haughty tyrant down,

With hatchet, pike, and gun!

Oh, the cropper lads for me,

The gallant lads for me,

Who with lusty stroke,

The shear frames broke,

The cropper lads for me!

What though the specials still advance,

And soldiers nightly round us prance;

The cropper lads still lead the dance,

With hatchet, pike, and gun!

Oh, the cropper lads for me,

The gallant lads for me,

Who with lusty stroke,

The shear frames broke,

The cropper lads for me!

And night by night when all is still

And the moon is hid behind the hill,

We forward march to do our will

With hatchet, pike, and gun!

Oh, the cropper lads for me,

The gallant lads for me,

Who with lusty stroke,

The shear frames broke,

The cropper lads for me!

Great Enoch still shall lead the van.

Stop him who dare! stop him who can!

Press forward every gallant man

With hatchet, pike, and gun!

Oh, the cropper lads for me,

The gallant lads for me,

Who with lusty stroke,

The shear frames broke,

The cropper lads for me!

 

ANON.

HORSFALL’s MILL

Come all ye croppers, stout and bold,

Let your faith grow stronger still,

These cropping lads in the County of York

Broke the shears at Horsfall’s Mill.

They broke the shears and the windows too,

Set fire to the tazzling mill;

They formed themselves into a line,

Like soldiers at the drill.

The wind it blew, and the sparks they flew,

And awoke the town fill soon.

People got up in the middle of the night,

And they ran by the light of the moon;

When these lads around the mill did stand,

And they all did vow and swear,

Neither blanket nor can, nor any such thing,

Should be of service there.

 

ANON.

GENERAL LUDD’S TRIUMPH

[to the tune, “Poor Jack”]

Chant no more your old rhymes about bold Robin Hood,

His feats I but little admire

I will sing the Atchievements of General Ludd

Now the Hero of Nottinghamshire

Brave Ludd was to measures of violence unused

Till his sufferings became so severe

That at last to defend his own Interest he rous’d

And for the great work did prepare

Now by force unsubdued, and by threats undismay’d

Death itself can’t his ardour repress

The presence of Armies can’t make him afraid

Nor impede his career of success

Whilst the news of his conquests is spread far and near

How his Enemies take the alarm

His courage, his fortitude, strikes them with fear

For they dread his Omnipotent Arm!

The guilty may fear, but no vengeance he aims

At [the] honest man’s life or Estate

His wrath is entirely confined to wide frames

And to those that old prices abate

These Engines of mischief were sentenced to die

By unanimous vote of the Trade

And Ludd who can all opposition defy

Was the grand Executioner made

And when in the work of destruction employed

He himself to no method confines

By fire and by water he gets them destroyed

For the Elements aid his designs

Whether guarded by Soldiers along the Highway

Or closely secured in the room

He shivers them up both by night and by day

And nothing can soften their doom

He may censure great Ludd’s disrespect for the Laws

Who ne’er for a moment reflects

That foul Imposition alone was the cause

Which produced these unhappy effects

Let the haughty no longer the humble oppress

Then shall Ludd sheath his conquering Sword

His grievances instantly meet with redress

Then peace will be quickly restored

Let the wise and the great lend their aid and advice

Nor e’er their assistance withdraw

Till full fashioned work at the old fashioned price

Is established by Custom and Law

Then the Trade when this arduous contest is o’er

Shall raise in full splendour its head

And colting and cutting and squaring no more

Shall deprive honest workmen of bread.

 

G. TAYLOR

DISTRESS OF THE POOR; A NEW SONG

In Sherwin’s Political Register 1818 (III, 336)

Tune–Derry Down.

The spinners of Manchester loudly complain

How toilsome their labour, how trifling their gain;

The hatters, the dyers, the weavers also,

Are starving with hunger you very well know.

Derry Down, &c.;

We fondly did hope when the wars were all o’er,

That hunger and thirst we should never feel more,

But woeful experience shews us the reverse,

That the peace only served to complete our distress.

The widows’ salt tears often dropp’d for the dead,

May now flow afresh for the loss of her bread;

Her fatherless children are starving also,

Is this a fit recompence, tell me, or no!

An adequate price for our labour we want,

But this our proud gentry never will grant;

So far they from striving our wrongs to redress,

They laugh at our sufferings, and mock our distress.

Your cringing, soliciting, never will do,

Too oft it has proved unsuccessful to you;

I could tell you a way to relieve your distress,

But I can’t bring the words in to metre my verse.

But a word of advice I would give to you all,

Let no party spirit your bosoms enthral;

Religious divisions, forget them likewise,

Unite in the cause, and you’re sure of the prize.