Beyond Castle Frankenstein by Paula Cappa

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 ashore 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

Happy Book Lover’s Day!

Did you know that today was National Book Lover’s Day? Neither did I, but I heard on the radio this morning that it was so I googled it and – sure enough there is such a thing. How will you be celebrating? I will probably start by working from 8 to 5, but after that I think I will get started with reading Ruth Ozeki’s “A Tale for the Time Being.” What will you be reading?


Oh, and I have a another tidbit to share:

My first literary neologism: The “Frankenslam!”

(below: Mary Shelley, author of “Frankenstein”)


I recently learned on Twitter about a book that deals with the lives of Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and the romantics. It’s Lynn Shephard’s “A Treacherous Likeness.”  It sounds very interesting, but I’m not sure if it would be my up of tea or not. It did get me thinking about Mary Shelley again, and her wonderful “monster.” I remember, the first time I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, marveling and how articulate and literate her “Modern Prometheus” was. Although I knew enough not to expect some grunting, lurch-ing Lon Chaney (Boris Karloff?) version of the monster, I was still surprised at his intellect.

How did come by it? Well, during the novel, he finds a portmanteau containing three books which help him educate himself. It is in chapter fifteen when the “monster” describes how he came by part of his education:

“One night during my accustomed visit to the neighboring wood where I collected my own wood and brought home firing for my protectors, I found on the ground a leathern portmanteau containing several articles of dress and some books. I eagerly seized the prize and returned with it to my hovel. Fortunately the books were written in the language, the elements of which I had acquired at the cottage; they consisted of Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch’s Lives, and the Sufferings of Young Werther. The possession of these new treasures gave me extreme delight; I now continually exercised my mind on these histories…”


(above: John Milton, author of “Paradise Lost”)


(below: Plutarch’s Lives)


It is primarily from these three books that the monster slowly constructs his mighty intellect. How fortuitous that ‘divine providence’ saw fit to not only provide the poor wretch with some books, but some classics! (Perhaps this was the same providence which caused a watertight sea chest to wash ashore “with everything he needed” on Robinson Crusoe’s island?) Anyway, it set me pondering about these three books. I wonder how many of us (besides the monster) have read them all? I assume Mary Shelley did, but at this point, she’s the only person I know of who has completed the relatively rare “Frankenslam!”

I’m on my way, though, as I actually own copies of all three, and have read Geothe’s “The Sufferings of Young Werther” and much of Plutarch’s Lives (and the monster notes that the portmanteau contained “a volume” of Plutarch’s Lives, not all*). I’ve attempted Milton a couple times without success, but maybe trying again should be how I celebrate National Book Lover’s Day? (And I wonder, perhaps it was on August 9th that the monster found the books… )

What about you? How far along are you with the Frankenslam? Have you started? Finished? Will you be joining the small club of those who have managed it?

*re-reading further, he relates that it is the volume that contains the lives of the founders of the ancient republics. I may have to do some research to determine exactly which volume it translates to.

(below: my personal library’s raw materials for a Frankenslam. Note the “used” sticker on the spine of Paradise Lost & Paradise Regained – must’ve bought that at the Wabash College Bookstore way back in the day… Perhaps I should purchase “a leathern portmanteau” in which to keep them?)


“And now, with the world before me, whither should I bend my steps?” Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

I am completing my third life-to-date reading of this classic, and am once again struck with the utter tragedy of the character of Frankenstein’s Monster. For me, the best – and most heartbreaking – portion of this book is the middle, where – after encountering his creation high in the Swiss mountains – Victor Frankenstein hears the story from the creature’s mouth of how he has spent the year since his creation.  Here we see, finally, some inkling from Victor that he bears some responsibility in the matter of the creation of “the monster” and its consequences. “For the first time, also, I felt what the duties of a creator towards his creature were.” Of course, by this point, Victor may be poisoned beyond repair against the creature, as the latter has already committed the (at least to some degree accidental – “I grasped his throat to silence him, and in a moment he lay dead at my feet”)  murder of his younger brother.

But the saddest part is the story of the time he spent near the cottage of an old blind man and his son and daughter – and later his son’s lover.  It is by observing this family that the creature seems to be on the track to becoming human.  He even helps the family (“they suffered that evil (poverty) in a very distressing degree”) by resupplying their firewood on a nightly basis.  Upon the return of the son’s love – a beautiful “Arabian” – when the family begins teaching her the french language, the creature via his clandestine observations of the goings-on at the cottage is able to learn language right along with her.  He also has the convenient good fortune to find a bag containing three books (The Sufferings of Young Werther, Paradise Lost, and Plutarch’s lives).  He is able to learn from these books, and begins to form a plan to “introduce himself” to these people in hopes of winning their good will and “protection” from the wrath he has already found from other people he has encountered that have flown from him in horror.  He decides to approach the old blind man at the next opportunity, as he knows it is his physical appearance that sends humans into paroxysms of terror and fear.

At this point, I cannot imagine a reader not “rooting for” the creature, but yet every reader must also know this plan is doomed to failure.  When with the old blind man is by himself, the creature knocks on the door and upon admittance begins to tell him at least a toned down version of his pitiable existence and need for human succor, and is seemingly winning him over – until the younger, sighted members of the family return:

“Who can describe their horror and consternation on beholding me?  Agatha fainted, and Safie, unable to attend to her friend, rushed out of the cottage.  Felix darted forward, and with supernatural force tore me from his father, to whose knees I clung, in a transport of fury, he dashed me to the ground and struck me violently with a stick.  I could have torn him limb from limb, as the lion rends the antelope. But my heart sank within me as with bitter sickness,and I refrained.  I saw him on the point of repeating his blow, when, overcome by pain and anguish, I quitted the cottage, and in the general tumult escaped unperceived to my hovel.”

Even at this point, however, the creature still hopes there is a chance – and so does the reader.  Surely, the old man will tell his son and family  (“It was apparent that my conversation had interested the father in my behalf…”).  However, upon returning to the cottage, the creature learns that the family is going to flee the area permanently. (“‘It is utterly useless,’ relied Felix; ‘we can never again inhabit your cottage.  The life of my father is in the greatest danger, owing to the dreadful circumstance that I have related.'”)  The creature’s fate is sealed… “For the first time the feelings of revenge and hatred filled my bosom.” It is at this point that the creature ponders the quotation that is the title of this post. The rest of the story is well known.

Reading this book has reminded me that I picked up an “unknown” (to me, anyway!) Shelley novel, The Last Man, at a used book sale about a year ago.  I am once again motivated to give that book a try as well.

What about you?  Have you read Frankenstein?  Were you as “surprised” as I initially was by the type of book it was (NOT a “monster story”)?  Can you believe Shelley began writing  this book at the tender age of nineteen?

Above: Boris Karloff’s interpretation of “the monster.” (Debuting the “sports jacket over t-shirt” fashion trend later popularized by Don Johnson on Miami Vice…)

So, What’s on My Reading Schedule for September?

It seems my reading for the next month has already been determined by all my “book club” commitments. This is what’s on the agenda:

1.) There I Grew Up: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth (by William E. Bartelt)

This is the September book for the “Bookmama’s” bookstore’s discussion group. I have been to a couple of their previous discussions earlier this year (Fahrenheit 451 & Some Buried Caesar) but haven’t made it back lately due to scheduling conflicts. I spoke to Kathleen, the owner of the store, yesterday and she said that the author of this book will also be there, so I hate to miss an opportunity to discuss a book with the author present. This meeting will take place on Monday, September 13th, so I don’t have much time, but there is a three-day weekend between now and then… Also, I don’t even have a copy of the book yet, but I ordered it yesterday and Kathleen said I could pick it up next weekend. This book also fits into my Project: Civil War reading.

2.) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

This is my book club’s September book a and is actually one that I picked for us to read. (we take turns picking from a list of suggested titles by members of the club, but one cannot pick his own suggested book). Is is one of those books that, throughout my life, friends have suggested I read, saying “knowing you, I bet you’d really like this book,” etc. I’m skeptical but we’ll see. Someone said it sounds a lot like another book my club read (Illusions by Richard Bach) which I did not like AT ALL, so I am a bit concerned… I’ve downloaded this book already from Barnes & Noble and it’s not too long, so we’ll see.

3.) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

This will be a re-read for me (third time). My original book club back in the 90’s read it on my recommendation, and I read it myself for the first time in the late 80’s and was very pleasantly surprised, not knowing it wasn’t just a ‘monster book.” This book is the featured reading of a “Great Books” reading group on the north side of Indianapolis, a couple members of which I’ve met on my visits to the local chapter of the CFI (Center for Inquiry), an organization that promotes science and critical thinking. They have a weekly Sunday morning “coffee & conversation” at their location downtown on the canal, which usually features a lot of intimidatingly smart people. For the most part I just keep quiet and nod my head occasionally…

4.) Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut

One of my favorite “discoveries” this year is the soon-to-open Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in downtown Indianapolis. They actually have an all-Vonnegut book club that meets the last Thursday of the month (September 30th in this case). I visited them last week for their meeting on Slapstick (more on that later) and it’s a nice group of people, one of whom was a personal friend of Vonnegut(!) and another of whom knows mNy of the Vonnegut family through her work in establishing the memorial library.

That seems like a lot of reading (“required” reading, anyway) for one month, but I think I’ll be able to handle it, and it’s not any more than I’ve been averaging this year.

Well, that’s what’s on tab for Jay this month. What are you reading? Have you read any of these four? Anything I “need to know”…?

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