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Mary Shelley’s ‘The Last Man’ — A Plague Novel for Pandemic Readers

There are quite a few reading lists for those at home during Pandem-Mania 2020, especially for those readers on furlough from work-at-the-office as well as those confined to home and unemployed who want their imagination to feed on apocalyptic stories of plague, pestilence, even influenza. For a sampling of these lists, see here, here, here, here, and here.

I am neither staying at home nor unemployed; my Muggle job that pays my bills whilst I write my thesis is in a grocery store which the state of Oklahoma has deemed an “essential business” akin to marijuana dispensaries and abortion clinics and unlike casinos and churches. It has been, consequently, a relatively unstressful time for me as my daily routine has only been changed in how I must dress at work (face mask required) and the atmosphere of fear the grocery store customers bring to their shopping. I wish that these small troubles were the rule for HogwartsProfessor readers during this unprecedented lockdown and pray that it ends soon, ends well, and that the country is back to work and free of this contagion.

I did order a copy of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s The Last Man and read it. Forgive me if this confession is disappointing to you but I had never heard of the novel before seeing it one of the lists above and I consider myself a great fan of Frankenstein. I have written three posts at this website on the alchemy and chiastic structure of that novel and have spent more time than I should perhaps in private meditation on its relationship with Coleridge’s ‘Ancient Mariner,’ a poem the young Mary Wollstonecraft overheard at its first reading by the poet to her parents.

In brief, The Last Man is the first person narration of Lionel Verney of his experiences in the United Kingdom from the years 2073 to 2100. It has only just survived in print rather than flourished as has Frankenstein largely because it is assumed to be Shelley’s portrayal in fiction of her life with Percy Shelly and Lord Byron, and, more recently, because it seems to be the first post-apocalyptic novel to reach print and a major audience (cue cat-calls and counter-claims). I confess to being largely indifferent to both these critical concerns; my hope in purchasing the Dover facsimile reprint of the 1826 first edition was that Mary Shelley’s reflection on life in the time of plague would be as challenging and insightful as her critique of biological and medical science in Frankenstein.

I was disappointed in this hope, alas. The plague does not appear on the scene until Chapter 2 of Volume 2, page 130 of a 341 page book and only in Volume 3 does the action of the story turn entirely on the effect of the disease on the country and the principal characters. The writing is wonderfully or interminably florid depending on your taste for such things, the far-distant future is envisioned as being almost exactly as life in the Edwardian period except for the Wollstonecraft wish-fulfillment fantasy of the monarchy being disestablished (and the rightful king eventually becoming the country’s savior by election…), and the relationships and fates of the heroic Adrian, Lord Raymond, Lionel and their wives and loves are, again, melodramatic in a way that only Romantic era writers would attempt and that only those with a taste for what approaches camp will enjoy.

I recommend it, nonetheless, beyond my enjoyment of this kind of writing which idiosyncrasy you may share.

For one thing, the conceit of how Shelley finds the manuscript of a first person account from the future without aid of a Time Machine is absolutely first rate. It’s all shared in the introduction, which you can read online here in only a minute or three, so I won’t ruin it for you. 

For another, any three volume publication of this period, not to mention one written by an artist of the proven alchemical and chiastic structure and style concerns of Mary Shelley, is an exercise book for careful reading by serious readers.

And religious and medical professionals — not to mention politicians — do not come off well in this book, at least during the plague time of the novel’s last two volumes. Shelley rips into the idols of democratic government and progress with no mercy given. The Romantic disdain for scientism and exoteric religious ritual is a pre-modern assault on modernity’s empty positivism and serves as a corrective, even a disinfectant to the excesses and corrosive ennui of postmodernity. Those critical of institutional responses to Covid-19 by church, science, and state will find that Shelley is something of a prophet in The Last Man

Last, Constantinople is won from the Turks by crusading Greeks. It doesn’t end well for the Great City or the invaders, but, still, for an Orthodox Christian reader and closet Byzantine, this temporary victory was almost worth the effort to get there — it is the story pivot, believe it or not — and the disaster of the unfolding plague that follows.

I hope in the comment boxes below that you will share your thoughts on The Last Man  if you have read it. Failing that, please let me know what you are reading of English literature’s vast stream of plague novels.

And, failing that, go ahead and share your experiences of the lockdown. I only ask that, if you choose to ‘go there,’ that you try not to share your feelings about those who are entirely on board with the shutdown of the economy if you are not and vice versa. I’d much rather read about what you’re reading and thinking than your acceptable window of righteousness defined by social distancing compliance and hypochondriac over-kill. De gustibus.

Strike5 To Be All About Marilyn Manson?

Late last week Satanic rocker Marilyn Manson tweeted that J. K. Rowling had sent him a gift:

I think this is a strong pointer to Strike5 having Marilyn Manson song titles and lyrics as its epigraph and story backdrop the way that Blue Oyster Cult lines and themes were so evident in Career of Evil. Here are my three reasons beyond the gift of red roses, which floral present, unlike Manson fans at Metal Head Zone, I do not think suggests a romantic relationship between Rowling and the Rock Star. She’s a Fat Cops fan, remember? My bet is the roses are just a thank you for permission to use his lyrics in her new book.

Three Reasons Strike5 will be a Marilyn Manson Novel:

(1) The Anton LaVey Connection: We learned in Career of Evil that Jeff Whittaker is a rock star wannabe whose favorite album was by the murderer Charles Manson and whose reading materials were largely restricted to Aleister Crowley texts and The Satanic Bible by American organist Anton LaVey. The LaVey connection is a big deal because Whittaker’s son with Leda Strike is named Switch LaVey Bloom Whittaker. We already have a connection with Marilyn Manson in the Charles Manson album (the living Manson’s name is a combination of Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson’s names) but with LaVey we get at the heart of Marilyn Manson’s Satanic beliefs. From the rock star’s wikipedia page:

Manson was a friend of Anton LaVey,[126][127] who even inducted him as a minister in the Church of Satan, although Manson downplayed this. When questioned whether he was a minister in the Church of Satan by Bill O’Reilly, Manson responded with “No, not necessarily. That was something earlier. It was a friend of mine who’s now dead, who was a philosopher that I thought I learned a lot from. And that was a title I was given, so a lot of people made a lot out of it. But it’s not a real job, I didn’t get paid for it.”[128]

As a result, he has been described as “the highest profile Satanist ever” with strong anti-Christian views and social Darwinist leanings.[129]However, Manson himself denies this, and stated the following:

I’m not a misanthrope. I’m not a nihilist. I’m not an atheist. I believe in spirituality, but it really has to come from somewhere else. I learned a long time ago, you can’t try to change the world, you can just try to make something in it. I think that’s my spirituality, it’s putting something into the world. If you take all the basic principles of any religion, it’s usually about creation. There’s also destruction, but creation essentially. I was raised Christian. I went to a Christian school, because my parents wanted me to get a better education. But when I got kicked out I was sent to public school, and got beat up more by the public school kids. But then I’d go to my friend’s Passover and have fun.
— Marilyn Manson[130]

Manson is also familiar with the writings of Aleister Crowley and Friedrich Nietzsche. He quotes Crowley throughout his autobiography, including the Thelemic anthem, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”[131] Crowley’s esoteric subject matter forms an important leitmotif in much of Manson’s early work.

(2) The Tattoos! Rowling recently revealed she has a Solve et Coagula tattoo (or had one temporarily; it’s only been spotted at the Ripple of Hope Award dinner). That was discussed here and its supposed relationship with the Baphomet Satanist idol was dismissed as ridiculous here. Turns out Marilyn Manson also has Solve et Coagula tattoos and one of the Baphomet head as well (see above). From the MansonWiki listing of his many tattoos:

Solve Coagula In January 2014, Manson revealed new tattoos that goes from the back edge of his hands to his wrists. The term originates from Solve et Coagula, an alchemy reference. Roughly translated, it means “Dissolve and join together” or transmutation. The tattoo was done at Will Rise Studio in L.A.
Baphomet On Manson’s 21st birthday, band member and friend Gidget Gein took him to Tattoos By Lou in Miami, Florida to get his first tattoo. At this same session, Gein got a Creepy Crawly Spider tattooed on his wrist. Baphomet became known in the nineteenth century when it was applied to pseudo-historical conspiracy theories elaborating on the suppression of the Templars, and it became associated with a “Sabbatic Goat” image drawn by Eliphas Lévi. The tattoo appears on his upper left arm, under The Lucky Devil.
(3) The Crowley Natal Chart Twitter Header: On 25 January in addition to posting two tweets on her long neglected twitter page (well, neglected since 19 December’s Da Tweet explosion) including one announcing that “Galbraith5” was finished, she changed her twitter page header. It’s an astrological natal chart, one belonging to Anton LaVey, Marilyn Manson, and Jeff Whittaker shared influence, Aleister Crowley.

Mix all that together and I think it’s a good bet that Strike5 will be a nightmare trip into the Satanist rock and roll scene via Jeff Whittaker with a soundtrack provided by the recordings of Marilyn Manson. Serious Striker Joanne Gray has written me to suggest the title of Strike5 could be Manson’s heavy metal 2012 album Born Villain. I suspect we’ll know if that is a bullseye prediction by the end of the month, maybe even this week.

Three quick notes:

  • All of the above, all of it, came to my attention — the roses, the tattoos, the natal chart — through the researches and generosity of Nick Jeffery who sent links to each. A hat tip and a big thank you to Nick!
  • Yes, I think we’re going to learn at last in Strike5 who sent the 50 roses to Strike’s office in Career of Evil. No, I don’t think they were for Robin or from Matt Cunliffe. I wonder if Marilyn Manson opened his card? And of course I get that Born Villain or whatever Strike5 is titled if a Manson themed novel is a lock down parallel with Strike3’s Blue Oyster Cult and one more bit of ring evidence that this is a chiastic seven book series.
  • Is Rowling a Satanist? No, she isn’t. Is she going to enjoy writing about the dangers of the real occult, the madness of popularized rock n’ roll nihilism, as a contrast with the risible supposed dangers of her Hogwarts Saga? Yes, I think she is. [Note to the friend who continues to try and post under a variety of identities on various threads here about Rowling the Satanist: get a new IP address for better luck getting past our filters.]
Let me know what you think!

Fantastic Beasts: ‘Original Screenplay’ Compared to Actual Film – What the Movie Makers Changed or Left Out

A Team Effort Guest Post by Kelly Loomis and myself! At my urging, knowing her skills as a literary detective, Kelly watched the Fantastic Beasts DVD with the ‘Original Screenplay’ in hand. She noted any differences between published text and released movie. We already knew that the ‘Original Screenplay’ was actually not the shooting script, which included at least fifteen scenes, props, and plot points that didn’t make it to us in the theaters. Kelly’s check of ‘Original Screenplay’ with the actual movie reveals that there are even major differences between the film and what seemed like just a transcript with enter-and-exit stage notes and descriptions. Enjoy her findings and our shared thoughts on their meaning!

When I heard that JK Rowling would be writing the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, my Potterhead self was excited and gratified. “Now,” I thought, “the film wouldn’t be missing the important details she weaves into her writing!”

I have been disappointed again.

First, as we’ve seen from John’s Fantastic Beasts posts about the shooting script and deleted scenes, the final film product is very different from the initial story Rowling approved for filming. The many cut scenes disappointed serious Rowling Readers as they were crucial to what we felt were key elements of the story. I’ve put a Round-Up of John’s posts below about the grand canyon separating the shooting script and the movie released last November and even the DVD we have now.

Second, incredibly, even the published ‘Original Screenplay’ doesn’t match up with the movie. Having compared the one with the other, scene by scene, I‘ve found that even the final printed screenplay is different in some areas than the film. Prompted by John, I’ve put these into writing for you all to ponder.

The good news? The “original” in ‘Original Screenplay’ used to seem ironic if not flat-out dishonest. What I’ve learned from comparing the published text, however, has shown me that this book is not just a transcript. It’s another window into the shooting script that Rowling wrote and approved for filming.

I list after the jump all of what I found. All citations are from the first edition of The Original Screenplay of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. All opinions are subject to 180 degree shifts consequent to your corrections! [Read more…]

Pack Your Bags! Newt Scamander’s Fantastic Beast-y Suitcase, Hermione’s Handbag, and their Literary Relatives

newtAs we look forward to the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in just a few days, eager viewers will doubtless be trying to pick up any element in the film that connects us to the Wizarding World we already know. From examining last names to see if any of the characters are relations of Harry’s school chums to hoping for glimpses of Dumbledore in that velvet suit he clearly bought at the Oscar Wilde estate sale, we’ll be looking for overlaps from Harry’s story into this, a totally different story from the same universe. One of the most interesting overlaps comes in the form of luggage. We are all eager (or terrified) to see what Newt Scamander is lugging about in his suitcase. Ron’s money is probably on something “mad and hairy.” But that case, and its unique properties, connect to a few other items in the Wizarding World, and to a whole host of other literary items that have insides bigger than their outsides. It’s a great plot device, and one that has a wonderful lineage, so let’s visit that little spot in the literary shopping mall where that suitcase must have originated, and spend a short while chatting about some of its predecessors in the Wizarding World and beyond.

[Read more…]

Guest Post: ‘Go Set a Watchman’ and the Loss of Literary Belief (Calderon)

Mockingbird bookGo Set a Watchman and the Loss of Literary Belief

Chris Calderon

“You think she’s racist?” That’s the question I might have asked if Go Set a Watchman had been released instead of its critically acclaimed rewrite, To Kill a Mockingbird. If Watchman had been released in 1960 and I’d been around at the time, I might have said I was in the hands of a very immature novice, one who may or may not share in some of the prejudices of her characters; it’s kind of hard to tell (I would have hypothetically said).

For the record, I don’t actually think that Nellie Harper Lee is in any way a segregationist. Her best and only work displays a mind that is too mature for such nonsense. This is what makes the shortcomings of a book like Go Set a Watchman all the more glaring in light of what it would become. In reading Watchman, it’s possible to tell what makes it a mediocre work in comparison with the powerhouse that is Mockingbird.

WatchmanI also notice a trend in the lengths some reviewers were willing to go in order to defend what’s really just an over-glorified first draft. I think an examination of both the draft and the response of certain readers, as well as a look at the peculiar circumstances surrounding Watchman‘s publication can shed light not just on the quality of Watchman as a novel, but also what it says about how modern audiences and even publishers look at the very concept of fiction.

An Overview

In terms of story, Go Set a Watchman is fairly straightforward. It tells the story of twenty-something Jean-Louise Finch, a displaced Southerner living in New York and perhaps a failed Bohemian (there really is nothing approaching the little rabble rouser nicknamed Scout, and what little there is proves to meager to save the proceedings) during a visit back to her old home town of Maycomb, Alabama. [Read more…]