Tag Archives: Frankenstein

Sad veiled bride, please be happy…

23 May

“Sad veiled bride, please be happy
Handsome groom, give her room
Loud, loutish lover, treat her kindly
(Though she needs you
More than she loves you)”

(The Smiths, I know it’s over)

George Theodore Berthon, Portrait of Mrs. William Henry Boulton (Harriette), 1846

I can remember how good I felt inside
When the preacher said “Son, you may kiss the bride”
But as I leaned over to touch her pretty lips
I felt it all slip away through my fingertips

(Bruce Springsteen – Stolen Car)

The wedding day can be the happiest day of your life – or the most tragical one. That depends on many factors; whether a girl is marrying a prince or an ogre (no offense Shrek), whether her husband to be has a mad wife in the attic or not, whether his marriage is just a devise to rob you of your family inheritance. Nontheless, the image of a bride, let’s imagine a Victorian era bride, is always a charming one; dressed in white and covered with a veil, she might as well be a ghostly creature from another realm. So ethereal and eerie is the figure in white. Walking down the isle, veil covering her blushing cheeks, dressed in a white gown and looking splendid in all her virginal glory, sweetness, hopes, anticipation, all fill her fast beating heart. In a step or two, her destiny will be decided, her life changed forever… is she walking towards the altar or being led to the dungeons where her execution is to be held.

Queen Victoria set the standard for white wedding gowns in 1840 when she married Prince Albert, but that is not to say that white wedding dresses were not worn before; they were, but from that point on they became the statement. Her wedding day was an intensely happy event and she loved being married to Albert, but not every woman in Victorian era felt quite the same way, despite the idealisations we nowadays may have of their time and their lives, doting wife and angel in the house was often a bored and lonely woman. Let’s take Toulmouche’s painting “The Reluctant Bride” (below) as an example; just look at her face expression, she is absolutely not thrilled about it. Or Sophie of Württemberg (1818-1877), the Queen of Netherlands, who was buried in her wedding dress because she said that her life ended the day she got married.

Let’s take a look at Jane Eyre’s state of soul in chapter 36 after the secret was revealed:

Jane Eyre, who had been an ardent, expectant woman–almost a bride, was a cold, solitary girl again: her life was pale; her prospects were desolate. A Christmas frost had come at midsummer; a white December storm had whirled over June; ice glazed the ripe apples, drifts crushed the blowing roses; on hayfield and cornfield lay a frozen shroud:lanes which last night blushed full of flowers, today were pathless with untrodden snow; and the woods, which twelve hours since waved leafy and flagrant as groves between the tropics, now spread, waste, wild, and white as pine-forests in wintry Norway. I looked on my cherished wishes, yesterday so blooming and glowing…

Jane Eyre’s wedding was so short and hasty that she must have been thinking, again quoting The Smiths:

I know it’s over
And it never really began
But in my heart it was so real

Apart from the obvious contrast between joy and disappointment that a bride inevitably faces, the figure of a bride in white, an innocent pure maiden, can serve as a visual contrast to something darker in the story, for example: Jane Eyre meets her husband to be Mr Rochester’s real mad violent wife in the attic, or the young naive bride of Bluebeard, when left alone in his castle, discovered his dark, bloody and blood-chilling secrets; also Elizabeth in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” who is strangled on her wedding night by the Monster that Doctor Frankenstein had created as a revenge to the Doctor who refused to make him a female companion.

And to end, here is perhaps the most eerie bride out of them all: Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’s novel “Great Expectations”, a bride who is decaying and rotting under her silk and lace garments:

In an arm-chair, with an elbow resting on the table and her head leaning on that hand, sat the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall ever see.

She was dressed in rich materials – satins, and lace, and silks – all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table. Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks, were scattered about. She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one shoe on – the other was on the table near her hand – her veil was but half arranged, her watch and chain were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her handkerchief, and gloves, and some flowers, and a prayer-book, all confusedly heaped about the looking-glass.

It was not in the first few moments that I saw all these things, though I saw more of them in the first moments than might be supposed. But, I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre, and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and bone. Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress, that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I should have cried out, if I could.

Auguste Toulmouche, The Reluctant Bride, 1866

Firs Zhuravlev, Before the wedding, 1874

Year without a Summer – Its effect on Art and Literature

26 Aug

Year 1816. is known as the Year without a Summer due to an eruption of a great Mount Tambora volcano in East India (today’s Indonesia). The volcano eruption which lasted from 5th to 15th April 1815. caused a volcanic winter; a reduction in global temperatures caused by vast amounts of volcanic ash obscuring the Sun. However, this very summer proved to be inspirational for Mary Shelley and her circle of friends.

1828. Chichester Canal's vivid colours may have been influenced by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. - Turner1828. Chichester Canal’s vivid colours may have been influenced by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. – J. M.W. Turner

It rained heavily in April 1816, and in May too and that’s when Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, along with his lover Claire Clairmont and his physician John William Polidori headed to Switzerland, planning to spend their summer by the beautiful Lake Geneva. Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister, who just turned eighteen in April, was a lively, voluptuous brunette who caught Lord Byron’s eye, and was already pregnant with his child. The party arrived at Geneva on 14th May 1816. and Lord Byron joined them on the 25th May. They rented neighbouring houses on the shores of Lake Geneva. Lord Byron and his physician settled themselves in Villa Diodati; mysterious place hidden in the trees, in the darkness of the large pines, while the Shelleys rented a smaller, less sumptuous villa nearby.

‘It proved a wet, ungenial summer’, remembered Mary in 1831, ‘and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house’. Memorable tranquil, bleak and desolate atmosphere proved to be inspirational despite the long rainy afternoons without a glimpse of sun. The landscapes, frightening and lonely, only added to the atmosphere, and even after many years Mary remembered them clearly, as she later recorded in her work ‘Never was a scene more awefully desolate. The trees in these regions are incredibly large, and stand in scattered clumps over the white wilderness; the vast expanse of snow was chequered only by these gigantic pines, and the poles that marked our road: no river or rock-encircled lawn relieved the eye, by adding the picturesque to the sublime’.

The group amused themselves by reading German horror stories and discussing, among other things, galvanism, by a log fire in Byron’s villa where the group usually gathered. There, on the lake Geneva, in the dreary May, Percy Shelley first met Lord Byron and the two were having endless discussions; they needed nobody else, nor did they noticed the other guests. It was in one of these long, tranquil, rainy afternoons that the idea of a ghost story arose. The tension in the villa hadn’t helped; Polidori was becoming more and more interested in Mary who showed no accept of his affection, and, at the same time, Claire was pretty much relentlessly fixated on Lord Byron whereas to him she has became dull a long time ago. This claustrophobic atmosphere proved to be hard for Percy who found himself slipping into a mood of oppression and morbidity. One rainy night, as the guest were all sitting by the fire in the great room, Lord Byron read a few verses from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘Christabel’. It the poem, a character Geraldine (who appears as a women but is in fact Lamia, a disguised serpent) seeks not only the physical but also the spiritual possessions of Christabel who is innocent and beautiful. Percy seemed to be very impressed, perhaps with the poem itself, perhaps with the hypnotic way Lord Byron recited it, still, he fled the room screaming, in horror. He later explained his sudden departure by the sudden mental of a woman who had eyes instead of nipples on her breasts. Polinori later used this event in his novel Vampyre, written originally as a short story during the same holiday in Geneva. In only six years time, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and Polidori would all be death.

Some verses from Christabel:

‘(…) There she sees a damsel bright,
Dressed in a silken robe of white,
That shadowy in the moonlight shone:
The neck that made that white robe wan,
Her stately neck, and arms were bare;
Her blue-veined feet unsandaled were;
And wildly glittered here and there
The gems entangled in her hair.
I guess, ‘t was frightful there to see
A lady so richly clad as she-
Beautiful exceedingly!’

Later that night Mary had a mental vision too, in the darkness and tranquility of a stormy night, her heightened consciousness of terror created something that would later be known as a novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus.

‘Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone by before we retired to rest. When I placed my head on my pillow I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw – with shut eyes, but acute mental vision – I saw the pale student of the unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion …’ Frankenstein’s monster and Frankenstein the book had both been born.’

A Year Without a Sun proved to be inspirational not only to poetic group of Romanticists who made up ghost stories for fun but also to J.M.W. Turner, famous landscape painter who studied the sky with a great flair. His painting shown above, Chichester Canal was inspired by the sky as it appeared in that infamous Summer Without a Sun. The painting depicts the Chichester Canal in Sussex and its brilliant, vivid colours were influenced by atmospheric ash from the previously mentioned volcano eruption.