Two Gothic Birth Scenes

In his biography of William Godwin, William St. Clair suggests the following passage from St. Leon is Godwin writing about the birth of Mary Shelley. So much to unpack!

“At length the critical period arrives, when an event so extraordinary occurs, as cannot fail to put the human frame in considerable jeopardy. Never shall I forget the interview between us immediately subsequent to her first parturition, the effusion of soul with which we met each other after all danger seemed to have subsided, the kindness which animated us, increased as it was by ideas of peril and suffering, the sacred sensation with which the mother presented her infant to her husband, or the complacency with which we read in each other’s eyes a common sentiment of melting tenderness and inviolable attachment!

“This, she seemed to say, is the joint result of our common affection. It partakes equally of both, and is the shrine in which our sympathies and our life have been poured together, never to be separated. Let other lovers testify their engagements by presents and tokens; we record and stamp our attachment in this precious creature, a creature of that species which is more admirable than any thing else the world has to boast, a creature susceptible of pleasure and pain, of affection and love, of sentiment and fancy, of wisdom and virtue. This creature will daily stand in need of an aid we shall delight to afford; will require our meditations and exertions to forward its improvement, and confirm its merits and its worth. We shall each blend our exertions, for that purpose, and our union, confirmed by this common object of our labour and affection, will every day become more sacred and indissoluble.—All this the present weakness of my beloved Marguerite would not allow her to say. But all this occurred to my reflections; and, when we had time tranquilly to compare our recollection of the event, it plainly appeared that in all this our hearts and conceptions had most truly sympathised.

“The possessing a third object, a common centre of anxiety to both, is far from weakening the regard of such a couple for each other. It does not separate or divert them; it is a new link of connection. Each is attached to it the more for the sake of either; each regards it as a sort of branch or scion, representing the parent; each rejoices in its health, its good humour, its smiles, its increase in size, in strength, and in faculties, principally from the idea of the gratification they will communicate to the other. Were it not for this idea, were it possible the pleasure should not be mutual, the sentiment would be stripped of its principal elevation and refinement; it would be comparatively cold, selfish, solitary, and inane.

The first paragraph is very sweet. The “melting tenderness” as they gaze upon their first born.

But then, the use of “creature” and “it” to refer to the newly born infant is unsettling to modern ears. Is this a testimony to Godwin’s emotional inhibitions? Or is it simply a different norm, language from a different era and different place?

If this is indeed Godwin reflecting upon Mary Shelley’s birth, and knowing that Mary Wollenstonecraft will be dead within a week (and that this passage truly reflects sincere feelings about the birth of his first child), then the third paragraph takes a dark and haunting turn. The joy of the baby is in the sharing; the sharing of creation, the sharing of responsibility, the sharing of love. Without this shared sentiment then a single parent is confronted with a world that is “cold, selfish, solitary, and inane,” a phrase that seems to aptly capture Godwin’s parenting style.

Mary Shelley writes about the birth of Frankenstein’s creature.

“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

“How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

“The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room and continued a long time traversing my bed-chamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep.”

“The beauty of the dream vanished.” Echoes of St. Leon. The dream of a child as a source of joy evaporates for both Godwin’s St. Leon and Shelley’s Frankenstein. Frankenstein removes himself from his child, instead of feeling connected to the new life, he feels “breathless horror and disgust.”

I haven’t taken a deep dive yet into the critical studies of Frankenstein, so I don’t know what others have written about the creature as an analog for Mary Shelley. My reading, however, suggests that Mary is often writing about herself when she is writing about the creature. Not necessarily autobiographically, but that she uses her experience to inform the experience of the creature. In many ways she is writing about the experience of women when she is writing about the experience of the creature. Perhaps in another world Frankenstein was subtitled: A Vindication of the Rights of Monsters.

My Gothic Body: Stone, part 3 – Bag Life 2: Emergency

Part 1, part 2, part 3.1

TW: life with nephrostomy tube and bag; emergency room visit

I stayed in the hospital the night of February 7 to be monitored. Mostly, I think, to make sure the internal bleeding was under control before being allowed to leave. (The surgeon nicked my ureter during the procedure, which prompted him to halt the operation. He rescheduled a second attempt for after my ureter healed.)

The first night home, Thursday, February 8, I felt a little disembodied. Presumably due to the anesthesia and the shock of the unexpected new life thrust upon me. That night was the only night I took any of my prescribed narcotics. It wasn’t that I was in pain exactly, it was more that I felt entirely discombobulated and didn’t know how to categorize all the new sensations my body was experiencing.

Alvin the dog was not happy with my arrival. I smelled weird, I moved weird, and I was carrying a white bag, which, presumably, smelled of urine because it was filled with urine. He was uncomfortably interested in my nephrostomy bag and so I started carrying that bag in a cheap cloth grocery bag, later replaced with a purse-like bag with a shoulder strap meant to be used for carrying dog-related stuff when out walking the dog.

Due to anesthesia and then oxycodone my bowels weren’t moving as they should and by Friday the constipation was increasingly uncomfortable. I first tried to rectify this with the stool softeners prescribed by the doctor. When that didn’t work I asked J to run out and get me an over-the-counter laxative from CVS. It was a pretty crummy day overall, discomfort from constipation, discomfort from the surgical wound in my back, and discomfort from trying to find positions in which I could sit without pressing on the nephrostomy tube worming its way from my back, and anxiety about going through all of this and still going to work on Monday.

Fortunately, the laxatives had their desired effect around 10pm and I imagined I would be able to get some rest.

At 4am Saturday morning I found myself wide awake and experiencing a calm lucidity. I went online and ordered new sweatpants and a special bag with a belt for carrying the nephrostomy bag. I had to be back at work on Monday and needed to figure out how to live life with this unexpected development.

Confident I had everything sorted out I did almost nothing on Saturday except rest.


Over the course of Saturday I experienced some problems with the bag. At least, what I perceived as problems. Until Saturday the bag collected urine consistently. Starting Saturday there would be stretches of time when nothing went into the bag.

I had been told by the nurse to expect this and presumed it was time to clean the tube with a special syringe apparatus they gave me just for this purpose.

Here’s the process —

  • turn the stopcock to off to stop fluid from flowing into the bag,
  • detach the bag,
  • attach the special syringe full of sterilized water,
  • turn the stopcock back to allow the syringe water to flow into the tube,
  • squeeze the water, slowly but deliberately, into the tube,
  • turn the stopcock to off,
  • remove the empty syringe,
  • reattach the bag,
  • turn the stopcock again to allow urine to flow from my kidney into the bag.

I spent a lot of time online trying to find reliable information about the whole nephrostomy bag process, but didn’t have a lot of luck.

The drainage continued to be erratic over the course of the day. By bedtime I’d flushed the tube multiple times and thought everything was working as it should. I awoke in the middle of the night with nothing in my bag. By dawn the bag was still empty and it looked like it was time to visit the emergency room. (An NHS site said that if nothing flowed into the bag for 10-12 hours I probably needed professional help.) If this had been a weekday instead of a weekend I could have gone to the doctor’s office, but, because Sunday morning, I had to visit the emergency room (which my local hospital calls an emergency department). When J woke up I explained the situation. There was no rush but I needed someone to help me understand why urine had stopped moving from my kidney to my bag.

We arrived at the hospital emergency department around 9am on Sunday morning. If nothing else, that seemed like it would probably be a time when not many people would be there. And, there weren’t. Still, there was a wait and the nervousness of not knowing what the end result might be. My hope was that I’d only need to swap out my current bag for a new one. But who knew?

We were eventually moved into a small examination room where we waited some more. Just before being moved to the room I’d peed in the bathroom and so there was nothing available when the nurse asked for a urine sample. I started diligently drinking from my water bottle to generate a sample while we waited to see a doctor. There was a door leading to a hallway used by staff and it was open. Several nurses worked at computer stations in the hallway and we passed the time listening to them gossip. They had a lot to complain about.

Eventually one nurse (wearing a paramedic t-shirt, so maybe a paramedic?) came in and listened to my tale and said I probably needed to have my tube replaced. I didn’t really appreciate what that might entail but it sounded reasonable. She left and we never saw her again.

Not long after she left two doctors came in. One I recognized from the morning after the operation. He’d come by to check on my progress and he’s the one that told me officially that the procedure had been shut down. He was part of the urology team, a resident I believe. His associate was an impossibly young-looking woman, very out-going and positive, and she did all the talking. I learned later (though she didn’t mention it at the time) that she had also been part of the team that did my operation.

“We finished our surgeries and rounds for the morning and saw that you’d been admitted to the emergency department and thought we’d swing by and see what was happening.”

I explained how the bag wasn’t collecting anything despite multiple cleanings.

She detached the bag (without turning the stopcock) and using a syringe withdrew urine directly from my kidney (there’s the sample!). Weird sensation. She also cleaned the tube. In retrospect, I think whatever she did ended up fixing the problem. The tube was blocked somehow? Regardless, it worked after she was done.

I mentioned that she didn’t turn the stopcock and she explained that the stopcock wasn’t for stopping the urine flow. Instead, it was meant to hold the stent in place. Every time I’d turned the stopcock I’d loosened the wire holding the stent in place. I think that ended up dislodging my stent ever-so-slightly leading to increased discomfort as time passed. I’d seen the wire retreating into the tube more and more every time I tried to flush the tube but didn’t realize its purpose was to hold the stent into place. I didn’t really understand what purpose it served.

She didn’t mention it during the visit but shortly afterwards I got notice from the doctor that I needed to come into the office to have the 3-way stopcock attached.


Remember this conversation from my night in the hospital?

“What’s this?” Nurse Mary asked Nurse Cindy. They were looking at my back and I couldn’t tell what they were talking about. I was still wrapping my head around what it would mean to live with a bag attached to my body.

“I don’t know.”

“Did you put it on?”

“No. It was like that.”

“Well, take it off. It’s redundant. We don’t need it. See (and she fiddles with something I can’t see) you can just twist this instead.”

“OK.” Nurse Cindy leaves the room to retrieve all the bandages and stuff Nurse Mary directed her to collect for me to take home.

In retrospect it seems clear that Nurse Mary removed the 3-way stopcock and incorrectly identified the stent lock as the flow control element. Possibly the stent would have been uncomfortable regardless, but I kind of think constantly loosening the stent lock led to increased discomfort.

Once the impossibly young doctor finished flushing the tube and taking a urine sample the bag started working as it should. She mentioned that if she were the lead urologist she would have capped the tube and not made me wear a bag. She offered to phone my urologist to see if he was willing to do the same. She stepped out of the room to make the call and returned a few minutes later saying my urologist wanted me to wear a bag.

She sent me to get an x-ray to make sure the stent wasn’t wildly out of place and then I was sent to the waiting room until she could review the x-rays. About 30 minutes later I was discharged, bag once again collecting urine from my kidney.

Wow! Such a long entry. Still to come — working and living with a bag, bacterial infection, and farewell to sleep. Oh! And ultimately, it all works out and my health is returned.

My Gothic Body: Stone, part 3 – Bag Life 1

Part one, part two.

TW: back tubes and bags attached

My mindset the night of February 7 was pretty good. There was little pain. I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep because the nurses would be checking in constantly. I got lucky and got a private room. I was disappointed the procedure didn’t work but, you know, things happen. I was bored but able to doze on and off and so made it through the night.

Nurse Manny, I liked. He attached some air compression leggings to my calfs that massaged my legs through the night. (These wrapped around each leg, from knee to foot. Each was attached to a machine that forced air into one, let it out and then forced air into another, alternating between legs to give each an air pressure squeeze. They are sold commercially as air compression leg massagers.) He helped me walk around the room when I couldn’t tolerate lying on my back any more and just generally had good vibes.

Nurse Mary was weird and alarming. She came across as way too hyper and happy. I immediately didn’t trust her. She was awkward interpersonally and out of nowhere wanted to shake my hand. It was weird.

She also broke the news to be that I’d be living with a nephrostomy bag until the next procedure. This was unexpected and a little hard to hear. I was not emotionally prepared.

My urologist, it turns out, is the cautious sort. Not every doctor in this situation would recommend living with a nephrostomy bag but given all the possible scenarios we might face moving forward, it was his preferred method of treatment.

A nephrostomy bag attaches to a nephrostomy tube. The nephrostomy tube is a tiny tube with one end in the kidney and the other end hanging out of the body. In my case, hanging out of my back. The bag attaches and fills with urine, fresh and direct from the kidney.

Nurse Mary was bossing around Nurse Cindy as she prepared to teach me how to care for the bandage that covered place where the nephrostomy tube entered my back, and how to care for my bag. Before she taught me these things she taught Nurse Cindy these things while also rattling off a long list of stuff Nurse Cindy needed to go fetch for me to take home.

I’m going to highlight this part of the conversation I overheard because it will be important later.

“What’s this?” Nurse Mary asked Nurse Cindy. They were looking at my back and I couldn’t tell what they were talking about. I was still wrapping my head around what it would mean to live with a bag attached to my body.

“I don’t know.”

“Did you put it on?”

“No. It was like that.”

“Well, take it off. It’s redundant. We don’t need it. See (and she fiddles with something I can’t see) you can just twist this instead.”

“OK.” Nurse Cindy leaves the room to retrieve all the bandages and stuff Nurse Mary directed her to collect for me to take home.

Nurse Mary looks at me slightly exasperated. “I was going to show her how to flush the tube,” and she shakes her head slightly, still grinning like a goon.

-Then you should have told her that instead of expecting her to read your mind, I thought.

Nurse Mary then explained to me how to detach the bag. There was a stopcock I’d turn to stop the flow of urine from my kidney to the bag. To flush the tube, I’d attach this special syringe I could screw onto the tube, and push in the pre-filled liquid into the tube, thereby clearing the tube. I might need to do this a couple of times a week. Then, I’d reverse — remove the syringe, attach the bag, and turn the stopcock so the fluid could flow.

She also showed me how to change the bandage, information I’d convey to J.

Eventually they determined everything was flowing the way it was supposed to. There was still a lot of blood in my urine (or, it seemed like a lot, but, as the emergency room nurse would tell me in a few days, blood is like food dye, it only takes a few drops to make everything reddish). The fluid in my bag was the color of a Jolly Rancher watermelon candy.

I got dressed in the gray sweats and hoodie I wore to the hospital, and carried out clear plastic bag full of syringes, gauze bandage packages, a urine collector/container (for unexplained reasons), my spirometer (a tube to breathe into to promote breathing and diminish the likelihood of pneumonia), and holding onto my nephrostomy bag. They loaded me into a wheelchair and escorted me to the waiting room where I waited for my prescriptions (oxycodone and stool softener) and for J to arrive to take me away.

to be continued…

My Gothic Body: Stone, part 2

TW: hospital, medical procedure

After learning about my stone I made an appointment with a urologist to discuss my options. He suggested a percutaneous nephrolithotomy as the procedure with the highest possible success rate for the large non-obstrutive stone in my kidney.

This means approaching the stone through a tiny incision in my back. Additionally a tube is inserted through the urethra, bladder and ureter into the kidneys to allow fluoroscopic guidance (i.e. the ability to introduce a contrast agent to allow better visualization when using bursts of x-ray to see what’s going on inside me in real time). I agreed to the procedure and we set a date.

On Wednesday, February 7, 2024 I awoke early and showered. After drying I wiped my body with some anti-bacterial wipes provided by the hospital, dressed in comfy clothes, and headed off, nervous but ready to get this over with.

Let me pause a moment to acknowledge my extraordinary privilege. I’m exceedingly lucky to have an awesome partner helping me with all this. J drove me to the hospital, hung out as I got settled into the pre-op gurney, and was there to provide whatever help I needed. Throughout all of this process I have been profoundly conscious of how lucky I am and what extraordinary privilege I have to be able to do this. I’m a mid-career professional with solid health benefits and the economic means to cover what my insurance does not. It’s a fucked-up world that restricts those not as lucky as I am to access to the kind of health care I received.

Eventually I was settled in, J left to get to work, and I alternated between dozing and working on my mindfulness meditation. While curtains kept me from seeing the others who were also in gurneys and also awaiting surgery, there was plenty to eavesdrop on.

One male Indian nurse was called aside by the head nurse and told he’d been taken off a patient. He was defensive and upset and the head nurse trotted out some balderdash about how some older women in the south expect to be called ma’am. What she didn’t say, but I think the talk might have gone better if she had, was — look, this racist lady doesn’t like your accent and complained. Let’s move on. But, instead of calling out the racist old lady, the Indian nurse kept getting signals that he was somehow doing something wrong, but without any clear direction on how to do things differently.

I recited my birthday a hundred different times for various doctors and nurses and eventually they switched on the anathestic and I slipped into a narcotic slumber.

I came to in the post-op holding room, a room of unknown dimension that held an unknown (to me) number of gurneys laden with folks coming out of surgeries of their own.

Apparently I had just missed the doctor but J was there and conveyed the news.

The procedure was called off before it could be completed. The stone remained untouched. It turns out I have an abnormally narrow ureter and in the process the lining was nicked slightly. To avoid causing any further damage the surgeon canceled the procedure and made the decision to try again at a later date with a slightly different strategy.

Next: Bag Life

to be continued…

Valancourt Books

Despite the quantity of titles published, Gothic novels of 1790-1820 era are scarce. Valancourt Books is currently the best go-to for this particular niche.

In addition to publishing the list of “horrid novels” mentioned by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey, they also publish a representative list of Minerva Press titles (I count twenty-two).

Valancourt’s whole catalog is worth checking out if you’re interested in the following:

  • Gothic & Romantic
  • Victorian & Edwardian
  • Literary Fiction
  • Vintage Thrills and Chills
  • Horror & Science Fiction
  • Rediscovered LGBT Literature

Arno Press went through a phase of publishing novels from this original Gothic (OG!) era in the 1970s. These were published for the library market and many are still available through interlibrary loan. On the open market, though, they can get kind of pricey.

Broadview Press is another strong contemporary source for some of the early Gothics. (Though these can be pricey.)

My current less-than-methodical pursuit has me reading a 1970s paperback with the traditional lady fleeing the spooky house cover written by Gil Brewer. Brewer interests me because he was a local writer and much of the crime fiction he wrote under his real name takes place in the Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater metropolitan area. Some of his crime fiction work is quite good.

He wrote some Gothics in the early 1970s under the pseudonym Elaine Evans.

“The mansion had been built more than a hundred years ago by Brady Holloway, who had made his fortune in Pennsylvania before moving to the Louisiana bayou country. Brady was known as a demon, and his rages were infamous throughout the countryside. When he fell in love with the beautiful Charlene, some hoped that he would settle down. But instead his raging way of life continued — until Charlene was found brutally murdered. Shocked, Brady Holloway converted his entire fortune –$750,000 — into gold, and disappeared from the world. Now, more than a hundred years later, another beautiful young woman was coming to the mansion renamed Malpoindre — Evil Dawn — after Charlene’s murder. Would Kirsten Holloway, too, meet her doom on these haunted grounds?”

I just finished a scholarly work about the Gothic paperbacks of the 1960s/1970s. It wasn’t that great. The next on my TBR pile will take me back to Walpolian England. And after Black Autumn I’ll probably turn to The Graveyard School.

“The poetry of the Graveyard School—gloomy meditations on mortality, often composed in churchyards—was immensely popular in 18th-century England and was an important forerunner of the Romantic period and a major influence on the development of the Gothic novel. Yet, despite the unquestioned significance of the Graveyard Poets, critical attention has been scant, and until now there has been no anthology of their writings.”

My Gothic Body: Stone, part 1

This post should come much later in the story but since it’s currently on my mind I’ll post about it now.

Thich Nhat Hanh has a translation of The Five Remembrances I like.

I am of the nature to grow old.
There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill-health.
There is no way to escape having ill-health.
I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to
change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
My actions are my only true belongings.
I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.
My actions are the ground on which I stand.

I find it comforting to remind myself that I will change. I will age. I will have issues with my health. I will be separated from those I love. And someday I will die. The Five Remembrances reads pretty goth. All about death and loss and separation, but Hanh adds a gloss that makes the sutra much more meaningful to me.

In the version I have Hanh qualifies his translation with the comment

“If we look at the Five Remembrances only as ominous warnings of what is to come, they will serve only to create more suffering. Our practice is to smile to them, to look deeply and shine the light of mindfulness in order to transform our fear of old age, sickness, death, being separated from people and things we love, and to see the nature of our actions.”

Understanding Our Mind by Thich Nhat Hanh · 2008

Finding a way to accept inevitable change with grace, humility, and humor has become an important part of my search for middle-aged well-being.

After Back Collapse 2023 my stool changed dramatically. I went to a doctor to try and figure out what might be going on, and in the process I got a CT scan of my gut. Completely unrelated to any issues I was experiencing I discovered I have a large nonobstructive kidney stone.

I’ve learned that so much of health care is really playing the odds. It’s possible a stone like that would never grow, stay where it was, and I could live out my life without it having the slightest impact. It’s also possible that down the road it could do something that caused great pain, damaged my kidney, sent me to the emergency room, or otherwise make my life considerably worse.

I decided to get it removed.

To be continued…

My Gothic Body: Back Collapse 2023, part two

“The lower part of the castle was hollowed into several intricate cloisters; and it was not easy for one under so much anxiety to find the door that opened into the cavern. An awful silence reigned throughout those subterraneous regions, except now and then some blasts of wind that shook the doors she had passed, and which, grating on the rusty hinges, were re-echoed through that long labyrinth of darkness. Every murmur struck her with new terror[.]”

Castle of Otranto

The first few days of Back Collapse 2023 were some of the most painful I’ve ever experienced. Moving was stiff and slow as I tried to negotiate moving my body without in any way bending my lower back. Here are a few things I learned during that period

  • moving the lower back is an essential part of adjusting oneself in bed, from moving hips to rolling over,
  • the internet makes every ailment feel like imminent death or at least cancer,
  • between 70-80% of the adult US population will experience chronic back pain at some point in their life,
  • typically “throwing out one’s back” will respond to heat/ice and rest and a visit to the physician isn’t strictly necessary the first few days,
  • in my case I should have started icing earlier. I used heat because it felt like muscles were tightening up, but the ice was more helpful because there was inflammation and swelling,

After three days I could move enough I could have gone back to work on Thursday, but since we are on 4-day work weeks over the summer I stayed home on Thursday. By the following Monday I’d regained nearly all of my range of motion, though I still felt a little tender.

After a month I was back to my old self.


Hmmm, how to put this delicately…

My stool was not normal.

The first few days after my back collapsed I was wary about what I ate. Getting to and from the toilet was a major ordeal. Sitting was rife with challenges. For the first few days I did not want to move my bowels.

When I was eventually OK with sitting and shitting I noticed my stool was soft, sometimes watery. Shock to the system, I thought. It’ll pass.

Still the same symptom after a month.

After six weeks I made an appointment with a doctor to figure out what might be going on with my digestive system.

Ugh, doctors. Perhaps that needs an entry of its own.

(to be continued…)

My Gothic Body: Back Collapse 2023, part one

My body is more deteriorating gothic ruin than tidy and burnished temple. I have arrived at a time in my life when my body is alerting me that it is the nature of my body to grow old, and to decline.

In Mysteries of Udolpho, Emily is initially excited at the prospects of visiting the Castle Udolpho. As she gets to know the owner better, she becomes more apprehensive. The first time she sees the castle she notes “its mouldering walls of dark grey stone, rendered it a gloomy and sublime object.” Soon after arriving Montoni has this conversation with the servant left to oversee the castle’s upkeep.

“Well, how have you gone on in the castle, since I left it?” said Montoni.

“Why much as usual, Signor, only it wants a good deal of repairing. There is the north tower—some of the battlements have tumbled down, and had liked one day to have knocked my poor wife (God rest her soul!) on the head. Your Excellenza must know—”

“Well, but the repairs,” interrupted Montoni.

“Aye, the repairs,” said Carlo: “a part of the roof of the great hall has fallen in, and all the winds from the mountains rushed through it last winter, and whistled through the whole castle so, that there was no keeping one’s self warm, be where one would. There, my wife and I used to sit shivering over a great fire in one corner of the little hall, ready to die with cold, and—”

“But there are no more repairs wanted,” said Montoni, impatiently.

“O Lord! Your Excellenza, yes—the wall of the rampart has tumbled down in three places; then, the stairs, that lead to the west gallery, have been a long time so bad, that it is dangerous to go up them; and the passage leading to the great oak chamber, that overhangs the north rampart—one night last winter I ventured to go there by myself, and your Excellenza—”

I am my own crumbling ruin.

It was a great day. Jennifer and I were cracking each other up, really enjoying each other’s company. We were driving home from Sanibel Island, taking the “scenic” route, the slow route I prefer to the interstate. I was feeling deep, sincere gratitude for what I had, a real appreciation for the life I’d managed to somehow stumble into. It was Sunday, July 31, 2023.

At home, I had only a few chores to complete to be ready for work on Monday. I plopped some clothes into the washer (another thing to be grateful for, I reflected. Once upon a time I’d be schlepping all this stuff to some nearby laundromat). I laid on the couch and read some. Maybe snoozed a little. When I stood up my back felt a little tight and thought I’d do some yoga in a little bit (another thing to be grateful for, I’d managed to find my way to a healthy place, better food, regular exercise, visits to the physician, therapy, lost thirty pounds last year. Once upon a time I’d eat a large bag of cheetos for dinner and wash it down with a six-pack. Now, I ate fruit for dessert and my diet overflowed with vegetables).

As I bent to pull the clothes out of the washer the tightening in my back quickened.

This is escalating quickly, I thought.

I pulled some clothes from the washer and as I stood to put them into the dryer stacked on top my back locked. To move was to conjure pain.

I shuffled into Jennifer’s office.

“Here’s a curious development. My back’s gone out. I can barely move. Can you help me lie down on the floor?”

(to be continued…)

Off-Topic: Brown’s Unified Theory of Fucks

Off-topic but Mandy Brown’s Unified Theory of Fucks resonates.

Read the whole thing here.

“This is one of my answers to the question of, why give a fuck about work? Why love your work? It won’t, of course, love you back. It can’t. Work isn’t a thing that can love. It isn’t alive, it isn’t and won’t ever be living. And my answer is: don’t. Don’t give a fuck about your work. Give all your fucks to the living. Give a fuck about the people you work with, and the people who receive your work—the people who use the tools and products and systems or, more often than not, are used by them. Give a fuck about the land and the sea, all the living things that are used or used up by the work, that are abandoned or displaced by it, or—if we’re lucky, if we’re persistent and brave and willing—are cared for through the work. Give a fuck about yourself, about your own wild and tender spirit, about your peace and especially about your art. Give every last fuck you have to living things with beating hearts and breathing lungs and open eyes, with chloroplasts and mycelia and water-seeking roots, with wings and hands and leaves. Give like every fuck might be your last.”

Matthew Lewis hanging out with Byron and the Shelleys

Wait, what? I can’t recount how many times now I’ve read about that night at the Villa Diodati when Byron, Percy, Mary, Claire Clairmont, and John Polidori were hanging out and decided to tell each other scary stories.

And after reading about this for months this is the first indication that Matthew Lewis might have been there!

In Spectres of Antiquity, James Uden writes —

“At the Villa Diodati in 1816, when Byron, Percy Shelley, and Mary Shelley participated in the ghost story contest that gave rise to Frankenstein, Lewis was there — translating. He earned his keep at the villa by translating Faust, according to Lord Byron, who was ‘naturally much struck’ by the poem, though he found Lewis an argumentative bore” (Then Uden cites Byron’s Letters and Journals, which I should probably dig up.)

I still don’t have a clear picture of what daily life might have been like that summer. I’m pretty sure Byron arrived with a large retinue of servants and attendants, dogs, horses, and various animals but I need to find the references in the letters and diaries. And from looking at Mary’s journal it looks like Lewis arrived in August. The story-telling contest was in June.

Wednesday, August 14.—Read Le Vieux de la Montagne; translate. Shelley reads Tacitus, and goes out with Lord Byron before and after dinner. Lewis comes to Diodati. 

I wonder what Mary thought about MGL. (I’m about halfway through The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis. It. Is. Scandalous!)

The principal characters there that summer were certainly familiar with The Monk, Lewis, and some of his other work. In this compiled list of Mary’s reading taken from her journals, we see she read Lewis’s Tales of Terror the year before that summer at Villa Diodati. However, she doesn’t make much of his visit in her journal entries. It’s not even clear if she spent time with him. Instead, it looks like she stayed at the smaller house, reading, translating, and taking care of the baby. (William was born in January of 1816.)

In 1816, at age 44, Matthew Lewis was no longer the enfant terrible but an established man of letters. He published The Monk when he was 21 and it was an instant sensation. To put the ages into context, that summer Byron was 28, Percy was about to turn 24, Mary about to turn 19, Claire had just turned 18, and John Polidori was 20. So young!

Lewis published The Monk in 1796, a year before Mary Shelley was born. In his mid-20s he met Goethe and had some conversations and some correspondence. He was a key figure in popularizing English translations of German “shudder novels” (schauerromane), as well as an important translator of German prose, poetry, and folk tales. His work and these German translations exerted a significant influence on the shaping of the Gothic genre.

I suppose in some future post I’ll unpack the chronology of events of that summer a little bit. It looks like maybe the contest was in June and Lewis’s visit was in August?

Lewis would have looked something like the following that summer. He died of yellow fever a couple of years later.

Shelley recounts some of the ghost stories Lewis told them during his visit to the Villa. Here is one of them —

A young man who had taken orders, had just been presented with a living, on the death of the incumbent. It was in the Catholic part of Germany. He arrived at the parsonage on a Saturday night; it was summer, and waking about three o’clock in the morning, and it being broad day, he saw a venerable-looking man, but with an aspect exceedingly melancholy, sitting at a desk in the window, reading, and two beautiful boys standing near him, whom he regarded with looks of the profoundest grief. Presently he rose from his seat, the boys followed him, and they were no more to be seen. The young man, much troubled, arose, hesitating whether he should regard what he had seen as a dream, or a waking phantasy. To divert his dejection, he walked towards the church, which the sexton was already employed in preparing for the morning service. The first sight that struck him was a portrait, the exact resemblance of the man whom he had seen sitting in his chamber. It was the custom in this district to place the portrait of each minister, after his death, in the church.

He made the minutest inquiries respecting his predecessor, and learned that he was universally beloved, as a man of unexampled integrity and benevolence; but that he was the prey of a secret and perpetual sorrow. His grief was supposed to have arisen from an attachment to a young lady, with whom his situation did not permit him to unite himself. Others, however, asserted, that a connexion did subsist between them, and that even she occasionally brought to his house two beautiful boys, the offspring of their connexion.—Nothing further occurred until the cold weather came, and the new minister desired a fire to be lighted in the stove of the room where he slept. A hideous stench arose from the stove as soon as it was lighted, and, on examining it, the bones of two male children were found within.