A VINDICATION OF MONSTERS
(Parts of this appear in an article first published by The Horror Tree and will appear in A Vindication of Monsters: Essays on Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft).
A VINDICATION OF MONSTERS: WOMEN, SOCIETY, HORROR, AND MOVING FORWARD. by Claire Fitzpatrick
Although Mary Wollstonecraft died just 17 days after giving birth to her second daughter, Mary Shelley, their lives were forever bound. And how could they not be? Shelley’s father, the political philosopher William Godwin, taught the younger Mary everything about his adored first wife. Though he remarried (to a woman Mary Shelley described as ‘a woman I shudder to think of’), his fierce dedication and loyalty to Mary Wollstonecraft echoed in his love for his children (he adopted Fanny Imlay, Wollstonecraft’s daughter by her lover Gilbert Imlay), and the remarkable education he bestowed upon them. While it’s no secret Shelley and Godwin had their differences (Godwin refused to speak to Mary for many years after, at just 17, she ran off and eloped with the poet Percy Shelley), he did treat her as an equal, something many fathers and husbands did not during that time.
The entire family was full of contradictions. Elopement, suicides, miscarriages, mourning – however, there’s no denying their powerful impact on the world, even to this day. And while the lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley may seem ordinary to many of us today, both women were trailblazers in their time, pushing boundaries, breaking convention, and following their own paths. ‘A Vindication of Monsters: Essays on Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft’ celebrate their lives in a myriad of ways. The 16 authors within the anthology celebrate both women and their political and literary legacies. Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ was a ground-breaking work of literature which still resonates in feminist and human rights movements of today. And the Creature within Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus’ has influenced modern popular culture for over a century. While many people may not have read the novel, it’d be a hard task not to mention the name ‘Frankenstein’ without the iconic Boris Karloff coming to mind.
‘A Vindication of Monsters: Essays on Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft’ delves into the lives of both women, with a range of essays covering a myriad of subjects within adaptation, feminism, society, and memoir. Each essay provides a unique viewpoint on the world of Wollstonecraft and Shelley, and how they continue to inspire to this day. From fiction, film, philosophy, artificial intelligence, abortion rights, and even COVID-19, Wollstonecraft and Shelley have impacted the world in so many ways, not even they could have imagined it. It’s insane to think abortion law is still an ongoing issue when in the 1700’s, thinkers like Mary Wollstonecraft were pro-choice (she referred to the early stages of pregnancy as ‘the quickening’. In the unfinished novel ‘The Wrongs of Woman: Or, Maria’, Wollstonecraft sympathetically offers the story of Jemima, abused and neglected as a child because of her so-called “illegitimate” birth. When Jemima becomes a house servant, her master rapes her, and she subsequently becomes pregnant. Concerned only to avoid his wife’s and the public’s disapproval, her master gives her an abortifacient. Initially, she refuses the ‘internal potion’, and it is only after she is raped again does she take it, “with a wish that it might destroy me, at the same time that is stopped the sensations of new-born life, which I felt with indescribable emotion.” Jemima makes the choice of aborting her foetus, knowing to keep it would lead to continued misery.
Many current scholars argue Wollstonecraft’s work prioritised middle-class families, and question her bias through her condescending tone toward those uneducated (such as the lower class). However, it must be remembered Wollstonecraft was a product of her time. Such thoughts were revolutionary, much like her daughter’s thoughts in the future. Unfortunately, her message seems to have fallen on deaf ears, as today, laws in so-called ‘first-world’ countries still have power over women. One can only assume what Wollstonecraft would think of such a thing, however one cannot deny the decreasing rights of women would have infuriated her. Yet one thing we do know through her activism is her resilience, even in the face of prosecution during her involvement in the French Revolution, something much explored in ‘A Vindication of Monsters.’ And while women have more autonomy in their lives, today, inequality continues in various forms. While gender equality is both a fundamental human right and a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world, there are many gender issues continuing to infiltrate our public sphere, with women continuing to be oppressed in various forms.
According to the United Nations Foundation, 1 in 3 women experience gender-based violence in their lifetime, 1 in 4 women experience violence during pregnancy, and 5,000 “honour killings” are reported every year around the world. Many women in developed countries are denied life-saving abortion care, with medical professionals facing threats by simply doing their jobs. While Eastern countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia were once the forerunners of absurd human rights violations against women, Western countries have now rolled back once-institutional protections, including the infamous overruling of the 1973 Roe Vs Wade in the United States, which, through their Constitution, protected the right to abortion access in the first trimester. However, with its overruling in 2022, the abolition dismantled 50 years of legal protection, paving for individual states to curtail or outright ban abortion rights. In Australia, Abortion is legal for up to 22 weeks’ and 6 days gestation. After 22 weeks’ and 6 days gestation, abortion is only permitted in certain special or emergency circumstances (however, it is permitted in the ACT with no gestational limit).
Outside of women’s rights, other subjects in the anthology tackle continuing issues within society, such as literary adaptations, artistic expression, violence, the evolution of medical practices, the issues with AI, how society shapes its citizens and breeds fear, and the continued teachings of ‘Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus.’ The novel and its messages continue to inspire, and will undoubtedly inspire until the end of time. ‘Frankenstein’ teaches willful ignorance, the negative consequences of power in the wrong hands, and while knowledge in itself is neither good nor evil, there is danger in its pursuit when forsaking wisdom. It also teaches us to not judge a book by its cover; that other people are affected by our actions; and morality is often not inherent, but learned. ‘Frankenstein’ also questions what contributes towards one’s happiness. A partner? Self-actualisation? Acceptance in the world? Having emotional intelligence? Throughout the text we are shown example after example of the little things that define humanity: curiosity, love, and mistakes, and it reminds us we have the capacity for reason. Additionally, and most importantly, it reminds us that prejudice towards unknown things, concepts, and people prevail if one does not seek to understand them. We are all deserving of being treated with dignity and respect.
Society is constantly evolving, changing, however it’s important we move forward, not backward. Unfortunately, many people in power hold it captive, stagnant. Basic healthcare, education, poverty, homelessness, gender equality, and water security are being increasingly neglected, with the will of the people consistently ignored. Sure, many wicked problems exist, however many problems are man-made, and can be changed – it’s just that people in power, for morally ambiguous and selfish reasons, refuse to do so. There is a slow move towards autocracy within many wealthy nations, the United States being the prime example. Even in Australia, autocracy is rising, within a decline in personal freedom and expression. We must adapt to protect and promote our citizens’ interests.
Today, horror has become partially mainstream, due to its underpinnings of political discourse. However, horror has always been partially political – a tool for sharing important messages to consumers through metaphor and allegory. ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968) illustrates the expectations forced on women (both back then, as well as now) and the trauma that they suffer in order to keep themselves going. ‘Videodrome’ (1983) presents an increasingly confusing and disturbing fall into body horror and tech dystopia, but its’ themes of all consuming technology and concern over when tech stops and our bodies end are so sharp it remains current in any landscape, especially today. Whereas George Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968)was rife with racial commentary during the height of the American civil rights movement, ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978) reflects Romero’s concern for cultural apathy consumerism. Set largely in a shopping mall, Romero used his undead cronies to condemn the hypnotic effects of superficial comforts and their eroding effects on human nature and values which continue to prevail today. The recent 2021 adaptation of ‘Candyman’ (based on a 1985 short story “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker and a ‘sequel’ to the 1992 film) shows racism as the true and cruel horror that it is in a unique and powerful way. It reminds us these issues continue in a society we convince ourselves is moving forward.
Many current authors continue to use horror to hold a mirror against society, reflecting our worst qualities. ‘Tender is the Flesh’ (2017), a dystopian novel by Argentine author Augustina Bazterrica, explores the permeable boundaries between the individual and their environment. ‘Mexican Gothic’ (2020) by Canadian author Silvia Moreno-Garcia explores the masculine forms of authority and challenges conventions surrounding outdated gender roles. ‘Cockblock’ (2018) by C.V. Hunt examines misogynistic stalkers, religion gone wrong, political pressure and prejudice, and the determination of women to build a better world. While not directly inspired by ‘Frankenstein’, they continue the use of fiction to point out inequalities within society, pointedly showing society our desperate need to change.
It is my hope that every reader can take something away from the book, even if it is something so infinitesimal it simply lingers in the back of your mind. For the world needs thinkers like Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft now more than ever. We need their passion, courage, strength, and solidarity. We need to stand together and empower ourselves to demand the world we deserve.
Vive la résistance!
A Vindication of Monsters: Essays on Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley
In 1797 an extraordinary visionary died, leaving behind a grieving husband, a two-year-old daughter, and a newborn. The woman was Mary Wollstonecraft, her daughter Fanny Imlay, and her baby Mary Godwin, who, through many trials and tribulations, grew up to become the remarkable Mary Shelley, creator of one of the most important books in Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus . While many books have examined both women’s lives, their remarkable similarities, their passions, joys, and their grief, A Vindication of Essays on Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft , delves deeper into the stories behind both women, their connections to historical events, society, their philosophies, and their political contributions to their time. These essays and memoirs explore Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, and Shelley’s circle of friends, including her husband, the capricious poet Percy Shelley; the libertine Romantic Lord Byron; the first modern vampire author John Polidori; and other contemporary creatives who continue to be inspired by both women today.
Claire Fitzpatrick is an award-winning author of speculative fiction and non-fiction, specialising in body horror. Her self-published anthology ‘The Body Horror Book,’ which she compiled, co-wrote, and edited, won the 2017 Rocky Wood Award for Non-Fiction and Criticism. Her debut collection ‘Metamorphosis’, released by IFWG Publishing Australia in 2019, was hailed as ‘simply heroic.’
Claire has been a regular non-fiction contributor to Aurealis – Australia’s longest-running sci-fi and fantasy magazine – since 2015. Within non-fiction, she is the 2021 recipient of the Horror Writer’s Association’s Rocky Wood Memorial scholarship fund for her upcoming collaborative non-fiction anthology ‘A Vindication Of Monsters – essays on Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft’ (publication date October 15, 2023, IFWG Publishing Australia and International). Her article ‘How Mary Shelley Continues To Influence Science Fiction,’ published in Aurealis #145, was shortlisted for the 2022 William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review. She is also working on an extended essay collection on (Nancy) Anne Kingsbury Wollstonecraft.
Claire has a Bachelor of Government and International Relations, a Graduate Certificate of Writing, Editing, and Publishing, and will die on the hill of the oxford comma. She operates Edit Without Mercy, providing proof-reading, copy-editing, content editing, academic editing, and book formatting services. She’s edited some pretty cool writers, including Bram Stoker winner Nancy Holder and Ditmar winner Rob Hood. She’s currently completing a HDR degree on the incorporation of dialogic learning in higher education to foster continuous, life-long learning.
Claire runs a Women In Horror blog featuring guest posts about – you guessed it – women in horror. Drop her a line if you’d like to be featured (everyone is welcome!).
Claire was a judge for the 2022 Forevability Book Awards, and was the flash fiction judge for the 2021 & 2022 Robert N Stephenson Flash Fiction and Short Story Competition. She’s also the social media coordinator for the Australasian Horror Writers Association.
Claire lives in Queensland, Australia, with her Lovecraft-obsessed husband, their cats (Cthulhu Halfstache and Yog-Sothoth), five chickens (Wok, Bok Choy, Amelia Eggheart, Chikovsky, and Eggwhite), their ringtail possum Tee-Tee, and their slightly human eldritch offspring. It’s truly a menagerie.
She is also working on a collection of children’s horror stories with award-winning Scottish children’s author Jan-Andrew Henderson. Because who doesn’t like scaring kids?
A Vindication of Monsters: Essays on Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley
This project was assisted by a Horror Writers Association grant.
The cover art and design is by one of IFWG’s most talented professionals, Greg Chapman.
‘A Vindication of Monsters: Essays on Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft’ will be released globally October 15 2023
Preface (Sara Karloff)
Introduction (Leslie S. Klinger)
Foreword (Lisa Morton)
In His Eye Our Own Yearning: Seeing Mary Shelley and Her Creature (Nancy Holder)
The Maker Remade: Mary Shelley In Fiction (Matthew R. Davis)
Mary Shelley and the World of Monsters (Robert Hood)
Beauty in the Grotesque: Bernie Wrightson’s Lifelong Obsession with Frankenstein’s Monster (Michele Brittany)
An Articulation Of Beauty In The Film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Donald Prentice Jr)
Mapping The Collective Body Of Frankenstein’s Brides (Carina Bissett)
Don’t Feed The Monsters (H K Stubbs)
Marys and Motherhood (Claire Fitzpatrick)
My Mother Hands Me A Book (Piper Mejia)
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein And Revenge Killers (Anthony P Ferguson)
Medicine And Mary Shelley (Grant Butler)
A Bold Question: Consent And The Experimental
Subject In Frankenstein (Octavia Cade)
Mary Shelley And Percy Shelley’s Fascination With The Creation Myth And Sexual Androgyny (Ciarán Bruder)
Frankenstein’s Language Model (Jason Franks)
Mary Shelley: Pandemics, Isolation, And Writing (Lee Murray)
Mary W and Mary S: A Story with Objects (Lucy Sussex)