Let's talk about your need for holy leisure, interior freedom, poetic education, creative expression and cultural engagement. Authentic, joyful, humorous...many talks to choose from...custom crafted presentations...workshops, retreats, group facilitation...let me help you!
With her circle of Romantic, ‘free’ spirited friends, Mary Shelley perceived the dark side of the ascendancy of scientific, materialist rationalism over nature, poetry and feelings. She was less aware of the dangers to humanity of her own set’s elevation of emotional passion and nature worship into the vacuum left by the Enlightenment’s dismissal of God. Their reactionary pull to the opposite extreme placed the demi-gods Artist and Lover on the throne that Science had usurped.
There are traces, in Frankenstein, of the author’s emerging awareness that her own position was somewhat shaky. The mad overreach of the scientist makes Victor Frankenstein the story’s villain, but the possibility that the monster is culpable makes him also a candidate for this role. The monster’s failure to be perfectly humanized by his amazing self-education, time spent in nature, and appreciation of beauty and human goodness may be the most human thing about him. If ever a ‘Noble Savage’ (the Romantic conception of a purely natural man) was shown to have an irreparable wound, and a bent toward evil despite his initial ‘innocence,’ and his humanistic education, it is this creature.
If Victor aspires to be God, the monster surely aspires (like Enlightenment Man) to be godless, to bring his creator down to his level, and to have vengeance upon God for the pain and suffering of his life. We wondered, as we read, whether Shelly recognized herself as her lover’s self-reflecting creature, who became less valuable to him as she was tarnished by grief at the deaths of her babies. How many modern lovers lose that romantic feeling if a baby threatens to displace them in a woman’s affections, or if her longing for a child reflects back their own infantilism instead of their perfections? Were these babies just ‘her problem’?
Was Mary awakened to her own blind adoration of Percy as she wrote Frankenstein, and described the worshipful and ridiculously uncritical regard that Victor’s father, teacher, fiancé and friend had for him despite his most erratic and selfish behavior? Perhaps she had already begun to long for the stability of some of the staid, boring conventionality they represent. Maybe she had intimations of danger, or inability to love, in “the one who rises above and flaunts moral norms and limitations.”
Might Mary have seen in herself a monstrous and unnatural creature, brought to ‘life’ by the spark of romantic love by a demi-god who then could not bear the actuality of her womanly being, her pain and depression, her grasping need of him? Surely she did experience being made unfit for and outcast from society. It must have hurt her deeply to look in upon hearth and home, family love, simple human goodness with yearning, but to be shunned as something like an abomination. Did Mary fantasize just a little about loosing rage upon those who rejected her – of being a monster with no culpability for its actions?
Notice that Victor was not so much horrified by the idea of meeting the monster’s demand for a female creature, but by the possibility they might procreate and their offspring wreak havoc in the land. How surprising to a congenial, conversational, romantic couple must be the reality of an impending child. And oh, how the babes do wound you as a woman – open up depths far below the surfaces you might have lived on, otherwise; ruin you for ‘Love Lite’ by eliciting a new and sacrificial and imploring love that is a constant prayer – whether God exists or not – from a mother’s heart for the life of her child. Can a creature be human who has not sprung from a womb, affected a mother in this way, but only is a combination of man’s mind with inert matter?
Could a woman living as an abstraction of a man’s self expect him to comprehend, to share, even to sympathize with the piercing actuality of her grief at the loss of her baby? I think not. Mary wrapped her story in a story, with another layer of (Walton’s) narration. Our study group thought it still peeked through. Ultimately, Mary’s humanity found no correspondence in the being of her ‘creator,’ just like the monster that emerged from her imagination. How different their lives might be in a world where God still reigned supreme.
Note: I chose Frankenstein for a Moms and Sons literature group and a Moms and Daughters lit group. Then I found it in the lineup for this year’s Well Read Mom readings. Great minds…same ruts! Do pull a lit group of some kind together for fun like this, or join WRM.
This is a shameless plug for my own book! I’m so excited that Angelico Press has published Souls at Work, and I have high hopes that it will be a blessing to readers. Someone has asked “What kind of book is this?” and it’s hard to put it into a typical category.
It is ‘self-help,’ because I enjoy talking to people who enjoy self-improvement. It is ‘educational,’ because I look at the world through the lens of the classical Trivium and suggest this as a model for self-educators and for teachers. It is ‘Catholic spiritual direction,’ because I strongly believe that your interior life will be much improved by taking on reality in all its forms – art, persons, subjects, buildings and more.
It is ‘poetic,’ because it is meant to give you entrance into my own lived experience, and so is written with a richness of vocabulary and diction that is sadly missing from many 10-bullet-point books. It is ‘hard,’ because it invites you into the adventure of working out your salvation in the rough and tumble tensions of things that are difficult for you. It is a ‘workbook,’ because I ask you to do the work of writing it for yourself (!), or, at least, responding to its questions to make it truly your own.
It is ‘dangerous,’ because there is no true growth or education possible apart from venturing into the unknown territory of the Real World with only our imperfect realization of Christ to guide us. It is ‘Catholic,’ because it is deeply indebted to and respectful of the Faith, and is predicated on my own love for Christ and His teaching magisterium…without being at all a work of theology.
What else? A fountain of youth? Yes. A great conversation starter? Yes. A fun romp through science, art, literature, architecture, and more with, not an expert, but an interested fellow student? Yes. A help in understanding relationship dynamics? Yes. A new perspective on the new evangelization? Yes!
So, as one who is obviously totally unbiased about this book, I highly recommend you get a copy and share the news that it is available. THANKS to all who take the plunge and wade into this ‘invitation to freedom’. Together, Catholic writers and readers must discover what it means for an artist to be, not a law unto herself, but a member of the Body of Christ. I so look forward to your response to this book. Please tell me what kind of book it is when you know!
Thanks to Jill Stanek, pro-life activist, for publishing this Guest Post about the 50 Million Names Project!
50,000,000! When we reached that abortion toll, I woke up, in a way, to the horror of this ongoing holocaust. I wished then, before Internet, email, and computers in every home, there was a way to give names for all those babies. No way!
Benedictine College hosted a Symposium for Advancing the New Evangelization in 2014. The theme was Transcendentals as Preambles to Faith, and I got to propose my take on that as a paper. Anyone who knows me could probably have bet good money I’d do something ‘three dimensional’ with that, and they’d have won those bets.
We need writers and artists who can translate Truth, Beauty and Goodness into form. In that academic environment, leaders are trying to keep students from becoming flat, one-dimensional eggheads by having conferences like this where ideas are pushed down into the ground of reality and practice.
In that light, my approach was to call listeners to the messy and non-ivory-tower world of actually engaging in the work of making art. You don’t have to be a great artist to get a great deal of good from learning to draw, write poetry, play an instrument. What those struggles do for you is prevent idea-olatry – the substitution of knowledge about art for the actual experience of trying to communicate ideas in real (and often inept, frustrating, messy) form.
The greatest moment was when my own pastor said, “I want to get back to painting,” after sitting in on my session!
Here’s an article I wrote for the great Tuscany Press site, based on this talk: Tapping Into the 3D Imagination – Realizing Person Through Art.
I enjoy sharing some of G.K. Chesterton’s thoughts on art (did you know he was trained as an artist?) – the whiteness of chalk, the value of doing things badly, the importance of framing, whether poetry should rhyme, learning to bear the tension of paradox, etc…. So many people know other facets of his thought, or enjoy his fiction without delving into what he thought about art-making, being a creator, or the role of the artist in the Church and society.
Chesterton is a great example of a truly playful soul – one who romps around in a universe made of building blocks and filled with toys enjoying it almost as much as its Maker does. His character Innocent Smith, in Manalive, is an artistic embodiment of this fresh, childlike, world-overturning spirit.
For all his fictionality, he’s a real and true example of what it means to be a Christian adult, fearfully and wonderfully made and gloriously free. Chesterton’s Gabriel Gale solves mysteries with poetic insight and his Father Brown solves them with more of a dramatic sense, placing himself right into the character of the unknown killer in order to know him well.
It’s delightful to read Chesterton’s own comments about art in the light of what he accomplished through art himself.
[su_pullquote align=”right”]”…the artist is a person who communicates something…the moment of creation is the moment of communication. It is when the work has passed from mind to mind that it becomes a work of art.”[/su_pullquote]
[su_pullquote align=”right”]”What is now needed most is intensive imagination. I mean the power to turn our imaginations inwards, on the things we already have, and to make those things live. It is not merely seeking new experiences, which rapidly become old experiences. It is really learning how to experience our experiences. It is learning how to enjoy our enjoyments.”[/su_pullquote]