In light of the approaching Halloween holiday I’ve dusted off some of my Gothic classics: Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Monk by M. G. Lewis, and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. My all time favorite, however, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
One of the things I love about Frankenstein is how it goes beyond being merely a back-tingling spooky story; in this it stands alone among the other Gothic tales. Who is the villain--the creature or Dr. Frankenstein? Which voice do we believe? Is Shelley really talking about societal constraints on science or women? Is scientific creation without ethics or murder the greater crime?
What’s especially astonishing to me is that the book was written by an eighteen year old girl in 1818. Yes, her parents were both revolutionaries in the fields of politics and feminism, but still, an 18 year old writing this masterpiece? It blows my mind.
The secret, I think, is that she didn’t attempt this alone. Shelley pinned Frankenstein in the creative community of her husband Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori (also, they were all holed up in a villa in Switzerland, which probably didn’t hurt). After spending a few nights reading ghost stories, the friends initiated a challenge: who could write the best horror story. The others in the group had different ideas that were hashed out to various degrees of realization, but Mary Shelley was the only one who completed her book.
Would she have been able to accomplish this groundbreaking literary classic without her community? I don’t think so.
I know I’ve written about community before, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, especially in light of some drama in my own life. I couldn’t have handled my challenges without the community of family and friends who encircled me with love and assistance during this time.
The same is true of writing. We authors seem to vacillate between megalomania (as in, my work is a creative masterpiece, the best that’s ever existed) and despair (as in, my work is terrible, barely coherent and worthy only to be burned). We need a writing community to bring perspective, constructive criticism and understanding as we struggle through the mountaintop and valley experiences of being an author.
Those of us living along the Front Range are incredibly blessed to have the resources of Northern ColoradoWriters at our disposal: critique groups, classes, networking and social events, conferences, monthly coffees, resources, and, most importantly friendships. Even if you don’t live in the Front Range area, I encourage you to find a writing community. None of us can write effectively in isolation. Supported by a network of mentors and friends, who knows what we can accomplish? Perhaps the next great masterpiece.