“Stoned Shelley”

            Josh raised a question about Shelley’s association with drugs that I wanted to investigate for my post today:

“Did Shelley have much exposure to drugs/addiction?”

            While it is a fact that Frankenstein was inspired by a “waking nightmare” (pg. 11) people have claimed that the nightmare influenced by opium. Mary Shelley’s husband, Percy, was infamous for his drug use. In Katherine Singer’s article, “Stoned Shelley: Revolutionary Tactics and Women under the Influence,” she writes: “Apparently one day a desperate [Percy] Shelley, banned by Godwin [Mary’s father] from seeing Mary, burst into the house and ran up to Mary offering a bottle of laudanum, and declared, ‘By this you can escape from tyranny.’ Since Mary did marry Percy Shelley, she might have doped up on it once or twice. It was mentioned in class that the group that Mary Shelley hung around were like the hippies of the 1960’s, who were also known for their experimental drug use. So whether it be in the Romantic Era or the 1960’s, drug use has been seen a way to obtain freedom/escape.

           Therefore it seems natural, almost endearing, for Mary to mention that in the novel, Victor ingests a type of opium (laudanum), to help him get to sleep (pg 207). In this instance , the drug only made his reveries worse: “…a thousand objects scared me.” In contrast, Percy Shelley used opium as way to, “forget his grief and to knock himself unconscious, those moments… marked by unbearable pain” (Parker, “Stoned…”). So, he was probably addicted to it.

          Mary Shelley makes no mention of whether Victor is addicted to this particular drug in the novel (he’s addicted to his scientific pursuits in the beginning), but she does write how much he enjoys sleep toward the end of the book. He says, “…during sleep alone could I taste joy. O blessed sleep!…my dreams lulled me even to rapture…in sleep I saw my friends, my wife, and my beloved country;” (pg 226).  Shelly could have been likening sleep to drug use. In real life, freedom through opium use came through its ability to “erase previous pain” – potentially through forgetfulness, memory loss, dreaming, or suicide.

            Perhaps not on a too unrelated side note – while reading this book, I felt that Victor had an obsessive personality; he’s so easily hyperfocused on one project. This project may be creating a new being, escaping from the new being, or trying to destroy the new being. What if Shelley had mentioned that Victor was a drug addict? Would Victor’s downward spiral/irrational behavior be better justified? Is it possible that she was channeling her husband’s drug use through the character of Victor?

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