Welcome to the Mad Made Boy blog tour! The son of Frankenstein’s Monster and his Bride, 16-year-old Boy has lived his whole life in a secret enclave of monsters hidden beneath a Broadway theater, until he runs away from home after he unwittingly unleashes a sentient computer virus on the world. Together with the granddaughter(s) of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Boy embarks on a journey across the country to L.A. But Boy can only hide from his demons for so long…
Frankenstein is one of the most enduring classics of gothic horror and considered by many to be the first science fiction novel. Most people know it was written by a woman named Mary Shelley. But not a lot of people realize she wrote it when she was only 19 years old. How could someone so young write something at once so dark and revolutionary? Or as Lord Byron puts it in the prologue to the 1935 film Bride of Frankenstein:
“Can you believe that bland and lovely brow conceived of Frankenstein, a Monster created from cadavers out of rifled graves? Isn’t it astonishing?”
That scene always cracks me up. Partly because the actor playing Byron has the most ridiculous “upper class” British accent I’ve ever heard. But also because all three of them, Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Shelley, and their friend, Lord Byron, are played as these fussy, uptight, English nobles.
The reality was quite different.
We will never really know the true story of Mary Shelley’s life. That’s because when she was older, Mary burned many of the journals and letters from her youth. Nobody really knows why, although it’s likely that she was trying to avoid yet another blackmail attempt. She didn’t burn everything, thankfully. We do have a few of her journals and letters. But to fill in the many gaps, we have to rely on the journals and letters of other people who knew her or knew of her, which amounts to little more than gossip. And there was a lot of gossip.
Mary’s father was an outspoken atheist philosopher and her mother was an outspoken feminist writer. Her mother died shortly after giving birth to her, leaving her father to raise Mary and her half-sister Fanny. To commemorate his wife’s death, he published her personal memoirs and was surprised when people reacted negatively to the sexual content the memoirs contained. It took him a few years, but he eventually remarried and Mary gained a step-sister named Claire.
When Mary was seventeen, a twenty-one year old activist/poet named Percy Shelley started to visit the house. At first he came because Mary’s father was a hero of his. But soon he started coming because of Mary. By all accounts, Percy was a real charmer and a brilliant poet, so it’s no surprise that Mary was interested in him, too. One problem, Percy was already married with two kids. When Mary’s father found out what was going on, he forbid them from seeing each other. That didn’t stop them, of course. They met secretly at night at her mother’s grave, read poetry to each other, and made out. Because yeah.
But that wasn’t enough for them. Soon after, they decided to run away to Paris, taking Mary’s stepsister, Claire, with them. The three wandered around Europe for a while. Mary got pregnant, but the baby girl was born premature and died after only a week or so. Percy was a big fan of free love and there are suggestions that he started hooking up with Claire somewhere in there. He certainly encouraged Mary to hook up with an old college buddy of his, although there is no evidence that she ever did. Then Mary’s half-sister, Fanny, committed suicide. And shortly after that, Percy’s wife committed suicide. Percy tried to take custody of his two children. He and Mary even got married so they would look more “respectable”. But his dead wife’s parents took him to court and won full custody from him. To escape it all, Mary, Percy, and Claire decided to run away to mainland Europe again.
In Switzerland they met the infamous Lord Byron, described by Lady Caroline Lamb as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” Possibly the most famous poet of his day, he was the closest thing the early 19th century had to a rock star. The Shelleys and Claire hung out at a lake house in Geneva with Byron and his “personal physician”, John Polidori, for the summer. A lot of sailing, reading, drinking, and drug use ensued. There’s no way of knowing who hooked up with whom that summer, but one thing is certain, by the end of it, Claire was pregnant with Byron’s child.
That summer spawned two other creations as well. Byron would sometimes entertain his guests by reading gothic horror stories to them while they all got high on laudanum. One night Byron proposed a contest to see who could write the best gothic horror story. Out of that contest came John Polidori’s The Vampyre, which was the first appearance of a vampire in English prose, and at the age of nineteen, Mary’s first novel, Frankenstein.
This post is already overly long, so I won’t go into everything that came after that fateful summer, but just to give you a taste (spoilers!), by the time she was twenty-five, Mary had buried three children and her husband. So I think we can safely say that Mary Shelley’s brow may have been bland, but her life certainly wasn’t.
Sixteen-year-old Boy’s father is Frankenstein’s monster and his mother is the Bride. A hacker and tech geek, Boy has lived his whole life in a secret enclave of monsters hidden beneath a Broadway theater, until he runs away from home. Now, the boy who’s never set foot outside embarks on a madcap road trip with the granddaughters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that takes him deep into the heart of America. Along the way, Boy falls in love, comes to terms with his unusual family, and learns what it really means to be a monster—and a man.
Jon Skovron is the author of STRUTS & FRETS and MISFIT. Visit him at jonskovron.com.