Nov 19

Tidbit Histories – Dracula Shows His Fangs

From the very same evening of ghost stories in 1816 which inspired Mary Shelley to write FRANKENSTEIN (see post, A Monster is Born), Lord Byron’s personal physician, Dr. John Polidori who was on the trip to Switzerland, wrote one of the earliest vampire novels, THE VAMPYRE based on a short fragment that Byron wrote but quickly abandoned. However it would be some years before Bram Stoker defined the genre by writing Dracula.

In 1890 Stoker was on a trip to Yorkshire when he first made notes on a supernatural tale about an undead man. His son claimed that the plot came to his father in a “nightmarish dream after eating too much dressed crab.” Interestingly that would mean that all three 19th century horror classics had their genesis in the dreamworld: FRANKENSTEIN; DRACULA & DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE.

Based in part on the life of the real Dracula, a 15th century Transylvanian warlord Vlad Dracul, who, in order to instill terror in his enemies (and occasionally friends) would kill them in horrifying ways, DRACULA made its debut in 1897. Originally titled THE UNDEAD, it was changed to DRACULA just prior to publication and issued in cheap yellow boards with red titles. Its initial print run was 3000 but there are no records of sales. Presumably they were slow given that the next printing wasn’t until a paperback was issued in 1901 and that reviews ranged from luke-warm to caustic. Fortunately authors have mothers. “My dear, it is splendid…no book since Mrs. Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN or indeed any other at all has come near yours in originality, or terror – Poe is nowhere… In its terrible excitement it should make a widespread reputation and much money for you.”

Unfortunately it did neither in Stoker’s lifetime.DraculaPost

Oct 22

Tidbit Histories – A Monster is Born

In 1816 Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley spent the summer in a quaint cottage on a lake in Geneva with Lord Byron as their neighbor. It was the coldest summer on record and the friends passed the time indoors telling ghost stories.

At Byron’s suggestion, it was decided that they would each write a ghost story. Mary seemed utterly unable to come up with a suitable idea until a discussion between Byron and Shelley provided a flashpoint. On a cold day in June they sat discussing the principles of life and even discussed whether a corpse could be reanimated.

Mary went to bed leaving the discussion at a fever pitch and that night she dreamed of an unhallowed medical student who constructed a synthetic man. She wrote in her journals: “I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life…” The next day she set to work making a transcript of the grim terrors of her waking dream. What was to have been a story of only a few pages, grew by the end of the summer into one of the greatest parables every written.

Mary was twenty-one. Frankenstein was ageless.

–see previous post for information on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s famous namesake mother, http://hermitagebooks.com/blog/?p=299Frankenstein3

Oct 15

Tidbit Histories – Mary Wollstonecraft Opens Doors for Women!

In 1791, one of the more remarkable dinners in intellectual history was hosted by the distinguished English publisher, John Johnson. In attendance was Thomas Paine, hard at work on THE RIGHTS OF MAN, William Godwin, hard at work on POLITICAL JUSTICE, and a young woman named Mary Wollstonecraft who was beginning to formulate her ideas for one of the earliest and most important books on woman’s rights ever written.

Writing at a fever pitch for six weeks, Mary Wollstonecraft produced A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN. Challenging the essentially patriarchal tone of the Enlightenment, the main theme of “A Vindication” was, if women were not educated equal to men and allowed to serve in equal capacities, then society was wasting its resources. One writer noted it was “thirty years of rage distilled into six weeks.”

THE VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN, published in 1792, was an immediate best seller, and it made Ms Wollstonecraft, for a time, the most famous woman in Europe.

Sadly, Mary Wollstonecraft died at just 39 from a post natal infection after giving birth to her famous offspring, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, author of FRANKENSTEIN.

Though the two namesakes would never know each other, it is probable that Mary Shelley would never have been able to publish FRANKENSTEIN without the groundbreaking intellect of her mother.Mary Wollstonecraft2

 

Aug 06

Tidbit Histories – Women Book Collectors?! Preposterous!

Too often men dominate the history of book collecting, detracting from the numerous notable and learned women who have enjoyed the hunt.

As early as the 10th century, the Benedictine Abbess Hroswitha was an avid collector. In the 11th century Countess Judith of Flanders followed her warring husband collecting manuscripts. The 15th and 18th centuries, considered the golden age of women bibliophiles, can boast the likes of Marguerite of Navarre who had her extensive collection beautifully bound and decorated with daisies. Madame de Barry, who could scarcely read or write when she began her collection, amassed an impressive 1068 volumes. Marie Antoinette, Mary Stuart and Catherine de Medici – passionate collectors all.

In the 20th century, the true collector’s spirit is represented by Ms Richardson Currer of Yorkshire who was the fond possessor of the 1486 first edition of Juliana Barners THE BOOK OF ST. ALBANS, the first book of sport written by a woman. Another ardent collector, Richard Heber, was so jealous of this rarity that he tried to acquire it by asking for Ms Currer’s hand in marriage. But she demurred, preferring to keep this treasure to herself.

Women Book Collectors

Jun 10

Tidbit Histories – How Languages Die.

There are currently 6000 languages globally. It is estimated that 5,500 of the world’s languages will no longer be spoken in the year 2100. Did you ever wonder exactly how a language dies?When I started reading VANISHING VOICES by Daniel Nettle & Suzanne Romaine, the opening paragraphs made it so startlingly clear, I thought it worth sharing.

Opening paragraphs from VANISHING VOICES:

“A few years ago, linguists raced to the Turkish farm village of Haci Osman to record Tefvik Esenc, a frail farmer believed to be the last known speaker of the Ubykh language once spoken in the northwestern Caucasus. At that time only four of five elder tribesmen remembered some phrases of the language, but only Esenc knew is fluently. Even his own three sons were unable to converse with their father in his native language because they had become Turkish speakers. In 1984 Esenc had already written the inscription he wanted on his gravestone: “This is the grave of Tefvik Esenc. He was the last person able to speak the language they call Ubykh.” With Esenc’s death in 1992, Ubykh too joined the ever increasing number of extinct languages.

Four years later in South Carolina a Native American named Red Thundercloud died, the last voice of a dying tongue. No longer able to converse in his native language with the remaining members of his community, he took the language of his tribe to the grave with him. Red Thundercloud was alone among his people, but not alone among Native Americans. Roscinda Nolasquez of Pala, California, the last speaker of Cupeno, died in 1987 at the age of 94, and Laura Somersal, one of the last speakers of Wappo, died in 1990.

In another part of the world on the Isle of Man, Ned Maddrell passed away in 1974. With his death, the ancient Manx language left the community of the world’s living tongues. Just a hundred years earlier, not long before his birth, 12,000 people (nearly a third of the island’s population) still spoke Manx, but when Maddrell died, he was the only fluent speaker left. Two years before his death, Arthur Bennett died in north Queensland, Australia, the last person to know more than a few words of Mbabaram, a language he had not used himself since his mother died  twenty some years before.”Vanishing Voices2

 

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