My favorite book is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and while there are countless reasons why this book should be on everyone’s to-read list, today, I want to talk to you about what Mary Shelley did for me, personally, by writing this beautifully monstrous story. But first, are you familiar with the tale of why Shelley wrote the book in the first place? No? Oh, do let me tell you!
Setting: Lake Geneva, Switzerland....
Mary Godwin (our soon-to-be Shelley), and her stepsister, Jane, found themselves chatting around a fire one night with Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, two notorious romantics already working in the writing scene. Inspired by the occult, and perhaps by the ashy-artic climate results from a recent volcanic eruption in the Dutch East Indies, Percy Shelley suggested that they each write a ghost story. He then proceeded to explain that they would all get together again, read their works aloud, and then judge the winner themselves. All parties agreed, and that night, Mary was plagued by nightmares. Now, there’s no telling who won the contest (cough, cough, Mary), but that dream eventually became the inspiration for, and basis, of what we know today as the classic science fiction/horror mash-up, Frankenstein.
Now, what I love most about Mary Shelley is that she wasn’t afraid to write a very masculine (ugh, I hate myself for writing that—what is masculine anyways?) story for that time period. Here we have a tale about a quote-on-quote mad scientist obsessed with playing God, whose main focus was bringing the dead back to life after his mother passed away and he was unable to save her (insert witty Freudian comment about mother issues here). Shelley then proceeds to compose a story that is not only a haunting creature feature, but one that also raises existential questions about life, death, morality, and faith, while introducing an entire sub-genre of body horror, freeing women, and monsters (see what I did there? Christ, Shelley was brilliant), from the constraints of appearance, genre, and hell, even the definition of death.
 Masculine is whatever you want, and/or perceive, it to be because stereotypes and stigmas are stupid. #genderequality #canIuseahashtaginafootnote?askingforafriend
Yet beyond writing something dark, fantastic, and intellectual, Shelley also was a survivor, and her personal biography can be linked to Frankenstein in my ways. With a strained family dynamic, Shelley harbored a tense relationship with her father and stepmother, and took to educating herself in her father’s library, as she never had a formal education, much like the monster, who read quite a few challenging books if I recall….
Anyways, after she met Percy in 1814, it seemed as if her life had finally found tranquility, however much like our protagonist and antagonist (not naming which is which BECAUSE IT’S HARD TO DEFINE THEM), she was instead left feeling isolated, alone, and immersed in a pile of death.
Widowed at age 24, Mary worked to support herself and her family, and continued to write. She was diligent in promoting poetry, continued to write science fiction and horror, and even wrote a novella, Mathilda, which is believed to be a “fictional” (yes, picture me doing air quotes here, people) story about a woman who tells the story of her father’s confession of incestuous love while also simultaneously detailing her own love interested in a gift young poet.
Ahem. Did someone say we have a confessional poet/memoirist here in the genre?
Let me clear my throat, but YES.
See, Shelley is my role model because she wasn’t afraid to steer away from the conventional safe love stories about dowry and class. She wasn’t afraid to write from the male perspective or create monsters that we all ended up sympathizing with probably a little too much, or use the monster as a metaphor for woman and the patriarchy attempting to control our bodies. As a woman, she tackled science and religion, and she challenged us to think outside our comfort zones by grave digging and electrocuting a bunch of sewed body parts together, and then daring to question what the point of existence was if we remain without love?
So yes, when it comes to women who aren’t afraid to rise from the ashes—or the table, I suppose, in this case—Shelley, without a doubt, gets my vote.
But what about now, you ask?
Well, when it comes to the contemporary horror scene, I think most people know by now that I have a soft spot for stories about madness and psychological trauma. I love when authors push their characters into the slaughterhouse of body horror and then shackle them inside an asylum of emotional torment, so if someone can do that while still making the story beautiful AND terrifying? Well, readers, let me introduce you to Mercedes M. Yardley.
I met Mercedes a few years ago at a kaffeeklatsch in New Orleans, and we jumped up and down, giggling like demons at a tea party where we immediately started talking about our love of heart-breaking horror and the beautiful grotesque. Now, I’ve read a lot of Yardley’s work, and she gets pain much like Shelley got pain. Her characters are broken yet sympathetic, tortured, yet hauntingly beautiful. How Shelly tackled the body, Yardley tackles the mind, as she brings issues of mental illness and grief to the forefront and then challenges their attached stigmas and stereotypes with strong female leads that show that women are anything but victims. Her prose is delicate but full of bite, and her words, while sometimes soft, will leave you bruised, and if you haven’t read her yet, I highly recommend it.
I, personally, started with her short story collection, Beautiful Sorrows, and I haven’t looked back since.
Rhea Harmon is a living target for the Devil as she possesses the power to detect one’s deadliest sin at first glance. Intended to be used as a weapon of war, the Devil sends Paimon, his right-hand man and top collector, to claim her soul and bring her to him in Hell. But the Devil isn’t the only one who is interested in Rhea. When Paimon arrives to collect her soul, he’s immediately taken with her and the resemblance she bears to his late-wife, Marissa. He falls in love with the mortal girl whose soul he is supposed to claim, and instead vows to protect her, thereby severing his allegiance to the Devil and sealing his fate as a traitor. Consumed by rage and fear, Paimon and Arazel, the Devil’s blood slave and ring leader to the circle of Lust, flee Hell in an attempt to save Rhea, but are instead forced to confront their pasts and their presents as they reevaluate the definition of sin and punishment. So what happens when a demon has to confront his demons, when Paimon has to turn to something darker, something more sinister for help? After centuries of living in exile, banned from their home and their right to rule, The Seven, the keepers of the deadly sins, are only too happy to answer his call, and if Paimon thought it was dangerous to make a deal with the Devil, then he had no idea what it meant to be blessed by the creators of sin
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