I commend to your reading the New York Times critique of Charlotte Gordon’s new book Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley.Romantic Outlaws
Consider how the author of the new book, by the critics admission, gives unsatisfactory weight to the destruction of the feminist worldview – but notice how the critic goes on to “lighten” the impact of the consequences by stating that the same type of havoc occurs in traditional relationships. Does it really?
Ms. Nehring only touches on the brokenness and despair in the lives of these two women – and the men in their lives. But Shelley’s monster speaks the unspeakable for her (and her mother). Where she could not utter the horror unleashed on her family via sexual revolution – Frankenstein did. Where Wollstonecraft is merely left standing in the blood of the French Revolution in this critique – in real life – she was drenched in it.
“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.”
“If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!”
“I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”
“I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel…”
“Solitude was my only consolation – deep, dark, death like solitude.”
“There is something at work in my soul, which I do not understand.”
“How dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to be greater than his nature will allow.”
“When falsehood can look so like the truth, who can assure themselves of certain happiness?”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
In reading Shelley – you find that she has been deeply influenced by John Milton’s Paradise Lost – his Satan – echoes through the voice of the monster. His will and mind to exact revenge is unmistakably Miltonian.
“What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; the unconquerable Will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield.” Book I, 105-08
Satan awakes on the burning lake of hell, voicing his eternal defiance.
“The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven . . .
Here at least we shall be free . . .
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.”
Book I, 254-263
Satan in Hell tells Beelzebub they will create their own world.
“Me miserable! which way shall I fly
Infinite wrath, and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell.”
Book IV, 73-75
Satan is tortured by seeing the beauty of Eden and Adam and Eve. He realizes that God did not throw him out of heaven; his mind is no longer able to enjoy anything.
O Sun, to tell thee how I hate thy beams
That bring to my remembrance from what state
I fell, how glorious once above thy Spheare;
Till Pride and worse Ambition threw me down [ 40 ]
Warring in Heav’n against Heav’ns matchless King:
Ah wherefore! he deservd no such return
From me, whom he created what I was
In that bright eminence, and with his good
Upbraided none; nor was his service hard. [ 45 ]
Under what torments inwardly I groane:
While they adore me on the Throne of Hell,
With Diadem and Sceptre high advanc’d [ 90 ]
The lower still I fall, onely Supream
So farewel Hope, and with Hope farewel Fear,
Farewel Remorse: all Good to me is lost;
Evil be thou my Good; [ 110 ]
It seems to me that the pathos of Milton’s Satan is writ large in the minds and pens of the two Mary’s – bent on rebellion and the destruction of God’s moral order. So true as Nehring suggests, that we are still living the legacy (and horror) of “evil be thou my Good.”