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Monsters Ink

The summer of love for Romantic writers

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You've likely heard the short version of this story: Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (soon-to-be Mary Shelley), Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and a couple others you've maybe never heard of were in Switzerland in the summer of 1816. One dark and stormy night, Byron challenged them each to write a scary story. The most famous of the lot was the tale of a walking body shop-turned-homicidal philosopher: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

OK, but pop quiz: Who's the other most famous scary monster who pops into your head (via your neck) like a bloody bowl of Count Chocula from hell? (Don't analyze that metaphor too closely, if you please.) Yes, Count Dracula was also born (undeaded?) that night in "The Vampyre," a story by John William Polidori, Byron's personal physician, a story that would later directly inspire Bram Stoker's canonical sanguine sucker.

But these two aren't the only monsters revealed in Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler's The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein. None of the writers who took up Byron's challenge needed to dig very deep to find their demons.

The poets and writers of the Romantic era are easily mistaken for somewhat respectable when their works are bound in Norton anthologies, and their rhymes and rhythms diagrammed and metronomed by the tenured set, The Romantics used words like "thine" and "ere" and "twas" without a whiff of irony! It's easy to forget what rock star radical rebels most of them were, what misfits, what marginalists, and how very young.

You'll need a flowchart to follow all the sex scandals and adulterous affairs of these frightful five, all of them flush with the freedom and free love of the French Revolution, their heads filled with the manifestos of Rousseau, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. (The latter two were Mary soon-to-be-Shelly's parents.) Anarchism, vegetarianism, polyamory, opium: seriously, the hippies had nothing on these guys.

Like Mary's monster, these writers had a mad, raw genius to them that seems to have gotten caught up in a feedback loop that summer as they fought and fucked one another, then returned to the page to suckle their monsters with ink.

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