Halloween Live: Who is the Monster?

Tom and Olga on a dark green background

In case you missed it, last month Intrepid Teacher Tom hosted a very special Halloween Live event on our Instagram page with our Learner Success Specialist Olga. They discussed Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the age-old question of who the monster really is. Catch the full recording on Instagram, or on YouTube.

Resources mentioned

Join Tom for more fun literary discussion every week in our online Book Club. 📚

Study Tom’s Novel Writing Course in the Intrepid English Academy. ✍

The Guardian article: Mary Shelley: The Mother of Feminism 📰

Transcript

Thomas Stewart  00.00

OK, I’m now live… so that’s… invite to join Olga. OK, so… oh, I invited her to join… request to join… Olga I think you’ve got to request to join. There should be a little button saying ‘Request to join’. Unless… just trying to figure this out… I don’t know if I’m sending you a… Hmm. OK. Olga, do you you see a ‘Request to join’ button? No… ‘Invite to join’. I think I already invited you so maybe you’ve got to accept the invitation, Olga? Does that work? ‘Is unable to join’. Why is that, then? Let me try again. Does that work? Olga, is there an option that says ‘Request to join?’ Is that an option? Requests… I’ve invited you already… no questions, no centre, hmm, OK. Sorry about the technical difficulties everybody, just bear with us. Going to try and get our guest on with us. Duh duh duh duh… Sorry about this. OK. Yes! OK, so Olga should be joining us now. Yay! Oh thank God, I got worried there. Hello!

Olga Kasatkina  02:51

It works!

Thomas Stewart  02:54

It works. It does. It does. So, yes. I didn’t even get the introductions done because I was worried this wasn’t gonna work. But anyway, it has. So hello, everyone, and thank you for joining us. It is Halloween, as you know, October 31st in 2021. So we thought we would join, here at Intrepid English, we would join and talk about Frankenstein. I’m Tom. I’m Head of Content and one of the Senior Teachers here at Intrepid English. I’m going to be running this conversation with our Learner Success Specialist at Intrepid English, Olga, whose idea this whole thing was. So, Olga, what gave you the idea for this? Why are we here talking about Frankenstein? Oh no, OK. Olga’s frozen for a moment. You just… I’m sure it’s gonna work. I have faith. This is gonna work. Olga? Or is it me? I hope I haven’t frozen. OK, Olga’s disappeared. I think there was some technical difficulties there. So as she… Oh, I think I’ve got… oh yeah, there we go. I think she’s coming back everybody. As I said, she’s the reason that we’re here. She’s the one that came up with the idea to discuss Mary Shelley’s book. And here she is. So, do you want to tell us where the idea came from to discuss Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?

Olga Kasatkina  04:32

Yeah, hello, everyone. Happy Halloween. So, my idea to discuss Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein book on Halloween was because of the direct reasons. It’s a monster, it’s a directly related topic to Halloween, of course, and it’s a great chance to talk about different layers of this book and to talk about Mary Shelley. Shelley as a writer, and about Gods and people and capitalism and feminism, all the our days topics and how this book is related to our days a little bit still, not because only of Halloween.

Thomas Stewart  05:22

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, ’cause I’ve been rereading it this week and there are just so many themes and so many things to pick out and discuss, which we are going to get to soon. But first, we just wanted to talk about Shelley as the person – who she was, who she was before Frankenstein, during and after. So we just got a little biography we just want to share with you which is: Shelley was born on August 30th 1797. And this was in London. She was the daughter of a philosopher and a political writer. The political writer was called William Godwin. And her mother was a very infamous feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, and she herself was the author of The Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which was published in 1792, so big influences, big characters in her life.

Olga Kasatkina  06:23

So, let me add that her mother, she’s called, like, a proto feminist, or sometimes it’s like the grounds for feminists because in her book she wasn’t just yet talking about equality of men and women, but because of the fair education for women it was a feminist topic in the very beginning, you know, and, yeah, Mary Shelley didn’t know her mother, because she died when she was just born. But of course, this area and people who were in their house and the topics her father and her mother discussed, that’s the area she lived in. One little sad thing about this was that her stepmother didn’t want her to get an education, but eventually, she did.

Thomas Stewart  07:46

Mmhmm. Yeah. So I just want to add as well that, you know, Mary Shelley published her first poem in 1807. And this was through her father’s company, her father, who was very involved in the publishing world. And at that point, Mary Shelley said about her writing, “As a child I scribbled and my favourite pastime during the hours given me for recreation was to write stories.” So she was very much a writer at heart. And probably one of the most infamous parts of her story, her life story that we all know, is that in 1814, Mary began a relationship with the poet, Percy Shelley, and Percy Shelley was a devoted student of her father. But he soon focused his attentions on Mary. He was still married to his first wife when he and Mary fled to England together the same year. And then we all, kind of, know this part of the story but then it gets to the even more infamous part, which is when Mary Shelley, her husband, well, not her husband at that point, Lord Byron, and others joined together on a holiday, a very famous holiday where they all came together, and they decided to write ghost stories. I think it was Lord Byron who suggested that they write a ghost story each while they were there, because it was very horrible weather. It was raining, so they couldn’t do very much. So, it was then that Shelley actually produced Frankenstein, what we know today as Frankenstein, and it was almost like, you know, one of the first writer’s colonies, writer’s retreat, where you have these people together in this space, they’re working on their novels, and they’re sharing them together. So they would come together and they would read their ghost stories probably around a fire, over a glass of wine, very much like we’re doing tonight. So yeah. So Olga let me throw it back to you because I feel like I’ve been speaking a lot. Tell us more about Shelley’s life.

Olga Kasatkina  09:57

Um, I just wanted to mention that she published her first poem in 1907. 1807. Sorry. And it was done through her father’s company. And she said an interesting thing about writing, let me read this. “As a child I scribbled, and my favourite pastime during the hours given me for recreation was to write stories.”

Thomas Stewart  10:33

Yeah. She was, as I said, yeah, like, very much a writer at heart and had that in her blood. So that was with her, and throughout her life, obviously, she had that inclination to write and to put pen to paper. And then she wrote Frankenstein. And Olga, why don’t you tell us about what happened in 1818?

Olga Kasatkina  11:00

In 1818, Frankenstein debuted as a novel from Mary Shelley, but she preferred to be an anonymous author. And she was just 21. Just 21. So, it’s been, like, three years ago it’s been 200 years since the book was published. And Percy Shelley contributed since he penned its introduction. And, of course, the book, as we know, had huge success. And that year, the Shelley’s both moved to Italy.

Thomas Stewart  12:03

And as I said earlier, one of the very famous parts of Shelley’s life was her relationship with Percy Shelley. And they had a very tumultuous relationship, sort of, I guess, similar to Cathy and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, they had this back and forth. I won’t go on about that too much, because I kind of want to concentrate on Shelley the writer. She did become a widow at 24. So she had to work hard to support herself and to support her child. And she wrote several more novels, including the science fiction novels, such as The Last Man, published in 1826. She did, even after the tumultuous relationship she had with her husband, she devoted herself to promoting his work and his poetry. I think that said something about her and her character. Shelley eventually died of brain cancer in February 1851 and she was 53 at the time, and she was buried in Bournemouth, which I’ve actually been to recently so that’s a strange thing. So anyway, that’s Shelley as a person, it’s just literally a glimmer into her life but as you probably gathered, you know, she was a very intelligent, fantastic, creative woman. So I’m gonna read a bit from the book now and my favourite section of this novel has always been when the monster speaks, when he tells his story to Frankenstein, his creator. And I remember listening to this as an audiobook for the first time, and I can’t remember who read it, but the way it was read, it really, really affected me. So I thought that I would read a little bit from that section. So this is when the monster has sat down, and he’s speaking to Frankenstein, his creator. “Believe me, Frankenstein, I was not benevolent. My soul glowed with love and humanity. But am I not alone? Miserably alone? You, my creator, abhor me. What hope can I gather from your fellow creatures, who owe me nothing? They spurn and hate me. These bleak skies I hail, for they are kinder to me than your fellow beings. If the multitude of mankind knew of my existence, they would do as you do, and arm themselves for my destruction. Shall I not then hate them who abhor me? I will keep no terms with my enemies. I am miserable, and they shall share my wretchedness. The guilty are allowed by human laws, bloody as they are, to speak in their own defence before they are condemned. Listen to me, Frankenstein. You accuse me of murder, and yet you would, with a satisfied conscience, destroy your own creature.” So yeah, it’s… I think what I just, what I love so much is, I read this for the first time when I was at university when I studied it and then every time I’ve come back to it, I’ve had a different feeling and view of that section. So, what is it about Frankenstein that you see, Olga? What is the relationship between Frankenstein and his monster?

Olga Kasatkina  15:45

Yeah, that’s an interesting question. So we are going to find out now, who is the monster, right? We’ll decide it forever. So, no question, for anyone. Yeah, so I like to… there is a, like I said, layer, which is just a scary story, right? And it’s a fantastic story, of course, when you just read it, you know, it just takes me immediately. But I like to look at it through perspective of history, and that Mary Shelley and the people around her, her friends, they lived in this time, between when the capitalism and industrialization and urbanisation and secularism just started, just, were born, by people, we can say, right? And then, this mindset of romanticism appeared as a, you know, as something against this industrialization and capitalism. And even romanticism had some sympathy for monsters. In some piece of arts, we can mention Francesca Goya, with his monsters, you know? And yeah. And romanticists, they tried to take the side of nature against industry, and they would prefer tree to factory and nature and simple life. So they wanted, kind of, move back, not move on with industrialization. And when the train later appeared people were against it, some people, right. And they weren’t obsessed with technology or money and they definitely did not want to become slaves of capitalism. And one of the theory that is capitalism who is a monster, and who created monsters from people, you know, so the main monster is capitalism and industrialization and consumerism, eventually, which causes problems to the people, which damages people, society and the planet. So, 200 years back, for those group of people, they felt the hidden threats related to this path people chose and, like, civilization, is what caused a lot of problems. So that’s one of the points to look at in the book and I find it interesting.

Thomas Stewart  19:40

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Exactly. Yeah, I remember we touched on this before about the capitalism, romanticism, who is the monster within that clash? I think we both agreed on the answer, but we shan’t push that forward. But yeah, I mean, something I was thinking when I was reading it this time was ‘who is the monster?’ and it’s something I’ve been thinking in my own writing at the moment. And something I just kept up, kept coming up against was masculinity. If we further this idea of creator. Creator equals God. God equals man. That’s what we’ve been taught to believe with the capital ‘H’. And that kind of god, was the kind of god that wiped away his creation when it didn’t suit him, it didn’t work. Which we can fit very much with Frankenstein and his monster, how it’s not created fully in his vision, or in a way that he knows to create in his vision. So he wants to get rid of it. And then if you further as well, this idea of God and stuff, I was thinking about how the monster could just be another illusion for the son, the classic representation of the son, who wants to be, you know, appreciated by his father, loved by his father, cared by his father, and he doesn’t get that. Instead, he gets the exact opposite of that. And this was something I found really interesting when I was reading it, and I actually thought I’d read this section which kind of supports this idea. Well, first, this is, you know, because he’s being cast out by his father, the monster has started to believe that he is a monster, the way he looks, the way he reacts is what a monster is. So he says, “I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I, who was reflected in the mirror, and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondency and mortification. Alas, I did not yet entirely know the fatal effects of this miserable deformity.” And then he’s talking about how he just wants to love. You know, he wants the love of his father. And he says… sorry, I’ve lost my place. I’ve lost my place.

Olga Kasatkina  22:23

I’m just enjoying the metaphor we’re finding for this book. You know, I think it’s a very interesting approach.

Thomas Stewart  22:25

Yeah, yeah.

Olga Kasatkina  22:27

You sound persuasive.

Thomas Stewart  22:40

Well, they always said, you know, when I was an English Literature student, if you have an argument, and you can just argue it right, then get the right quotes, and you can support it so that’s what I kind of loved about the flexibility of literature. And I found my place finally, where the monster says, “Of my creation and creator, I was absolutely ignorant. But I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. I was besides indued with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome. I was not even of the same nature as man.” So he has that, kind of, physical reminder that, you know, he’s a monster and he doesn’t have a father figure or a parent figure really, to reaffirm him and love him. And then he goes on to say, “But where were my friends and relations? No father had watched my infant days. No mother had blessed me with smiles and caresses. Or if they had, all my past life was now a blot. A blind vacancy in which I distinguished nothing. What was I? The question again, recurred to be answered only with groans.” So you know, he, I don’t know, I find this kind of, there’s this term ‘toxic masculinity’, and that is all the things we know about masculinity. Men don’t talk about their feelings. Men think that, like, power should be violence wrapped up and tossed about. Toxic masculinity. This is something we want to break. And I think really the only people that can properly break them are the fathers, and that is Frankenstein. Like, you know, he should break that, but he doesn’t. He fails his monster, his son, in a way. And I think it’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who said we need to raise our sons better. And I think a lot of the, kind of, work has been put on women and they’ve done so much of the work that men need to start doing that work. Fathers need to start doing that work. Fathers like Frankenstein.

Olga Kasatkina 24:43

Yeah, he definitely should have taught him. Oh, yeah, thank you for sharing this. It was quite interesting.

Thomas Stewart  24:59

Oh, yeah, yeah. Thank you for suggesting that we do it, that we talk about… I mean, I love Frankenstein. I just… it’s one of my favourite books and Mary Shelley was really a revolutionary for her time. Like, as we’ve discussed, there are multiple ways we can read this book. There are multiple ways and lessons we can walk around with. Mary Shelley did that. She did this amazing thing.

Olga Kasatkina  25:22

Yeah. And I think there are more ways of looking at this book, of course. Just two of us, and we brought two ideas to the discussion, but yeah, she was brilliant, for sure.

Thomas Stewart  25:39

Yeah, yeah, she was. Well, OK. Well, thank you very much, Olga, for suggesting and for joining me on this discussion. For anyone who’s interested in more of these discussions, we have a book club at Intrepid English. We’ll post links in the comments and links on a blog post that we will do later. There’s also a fantastic article that you wanted to share the ‘Mary Shelley: The Mother of Feminism’ in The Guardian, that we’re going to share as well, which will just continue this discussion of Mary Shelley and her genius, might I be so bold to say. Yes, I’m going to be so bold to say, you know, she is a genius, she was a genius. So anyway, thank you for joining us. We are Intrepid English, and we wish you a Happy Halloween.

Olga Kasatkina  26:31

Happy Halloween!

Thomas Stewart  26:32

Happy Halloween! Cheers to that, Olga! And thanks again.

Olga Kasatkina  26:39

I’m drinking water, not wine, but in a wine glass. It counts, OK.

Thomas Stewart  26:45

Exactly, it looks like it. You know, we wouldn’t have known, but that’s fine. Right, thank you, Olga! See you soon.

Olga Kasatkina  26:53

Bye!

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