As my regular readers (both of them) know, I’m fond of observing coincidences in my reading and in life generally. I don’t believe in them, but I enjoy them. Every now and then in my reading I seem to hit a pocket where themes recur over the course of a few weeks or a stretch of books and stories. The latest has been a spate of Shelley/Frankenstein-related reading, including one book club which just read the “original, uncensored” version of that classic, and a friend who just randomly last week “finally” returned my copy of “The Sufferings of Young Werther” after having it for quite awhile. (That book was one of the three fortuitously found by Frankenstein’s Monster in that “leathern portmanteau” in the woods.) Then, for the Fenruary meeting of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library book club, we read a collection of his WNYC radio pieces (“God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian) where he “interviews” people in heaven. Who do you think was one of them? Mary Shelley, of course. Add to that, a fellow DMI’er (at Behold the Stars) recently posted about a Percy Shelley poem.
When I drew the two of spades – a wild card – for this week’s Deal Me In read, I thought I may as well continue the trend and chose to read Paula Cappa’s short story “Beyond Castle Frankenstein,” which I own via an e-copy. I’ve followed Paula’s excellent blog for a few years now, and her weekly “Tuesday’s Tale of Terror” has provided me with many great introductions to hitherto unknown to me stories and authors. Paula is also a published author herself, and I have one other story of hers (“The Magic of the Loons”) already assigned in my 2015 Deal Me In roster.
Below: the “Casa Magni” on the coast of Italy – once the home of Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley.
Beyond Castle Frankenstein
This tale is sort of a story within a story. We have a modern day narrator who describes a visit to a location where a painting of the Casa Magni once resided. He articulates that “I had come here to observe the ghost of an old painting that once lived here. There are such things as phantoms of paintings.” An interesting concept, and one I’ve never given much thought. Do you think there are such things as phantoms of paintings?
The meat of the story, however, is a different treasure within the painting. Literally. The narrator had purchased the piece and was committed to restoring it after years of normal though significant depreciation. In preparation, he notes that it has a rare double backing and in between the backings he finds “a thinly folded yellowed handwritten letter.” The narrator believes he has found “the soul of the painting,” and indeed he may have. What the letter proves to be is a missive written by Mary Shelley to the ghost of her husband (Percy Bysshe Shelley)!
The letter was written in 1850 – 28 years after the poet’s death by drowning, which was a sensational news story of its day. Mary Shelley at one point confides in the letter that “of late something has loosened in my brain” and the letter is largely an unburdening of guilt that she possesses over the death of Percy’s first wife Harriet, from whom the young Mary seduced the poet away. Perhaps she is right about the “loosening,” as she writes seeking some kind of a reunion with her love, saying “I have come to believe that a force between the living and the dead can manifest if both are willing. Please, come to me, as a shadow or a dusty light. I must see you one final time before my own death. One more embrace? You do still love me?”
Was her written entreaty read or heard by Percy’s ghost? By anyone?
I enjoyed the story – as much for itself as for knowing that it will lead me into further interesting reading… There is some mystery Surrounding the death of Percy Shelley and much speculation that he may have been suicidal. There are also stories that his heart was preserved and its calcified remnants were kept by Mary until her death (wow). With the very limited ‘research’ I’ve done so far I don’t know if this latter is true, but I‘d certainly like to read more about the Shelleys.
Above: an artist’s imagining of the burning of Shelley’s body on the Italian beach where he washed shore after drowning.
This story – and others which I plan to use for future editions of Deal Me In – may be found in “Journals of Horror: Found Fiction” edited by Terry West. As of this writing, it’s only $3.99 in the Kindle version, which may be found at http://www.amazon.com/Journals-Horror-Fiction-Todd-Keisling-ebook/dp/B00MTB67GY