Tag Archives: Adolescence

Let’s Talk About Frankenstein (2) – Walton’s First Three Letters.

In the introductory post, I offered the hypothesis that “Frankenstein” (1) was a letter written by the teenage Mary Shelley to her dead mother, Mary Wollstonecraft.  I suggested that Shelley had written herself as Frankenstein with her mother Wollstonecraft as the monster.  It occurred to me that Shelley wanted her dead mother to understand how it felt to be an abandoned child.  It could be suggested that this hypothesis is flawed because we start the text with the explorer, Walton and his sister, Margaret Saville.  However, if we reason that Shelley is the mother of sci fi; I think we can safely expect her to have fluidity in her writing.  Even though she was writing in the early 1800s, Shelley was not bound by convention.  As her main character Frankenstein was a scientist, an experimenter, so Shelley embraced investigation in her writing.   I think that Shelley explores her communications with her dead mother throughout the text in a theatrical way.   The characters change their costumes and become someone else.   Hence, in the beginning, we are introduced to Walton the explorer and his sister Margaret Saville who are simply Shelley and Wollstonecraft, respectively.

In this post, I will explore how my hypothesis fits with the beginning of the book when we read Walton the explorer’s first three  letters to his sister, Mrs Saville.   Mrs Saville has been left at home whilst her brother has exciting adventures.  It is a typical 18th century scenario.  The male has inherited the family fortune and is off proving his masculinity whilst his sister sits at home waiting for his correspondence.  As the daughter of the first feminist writer, Mary Wollstonecraft, it is easy to see how the text could be perceived as a bit tongue in cheek.  However, as I am reading the letters  as  letters  from Mary Shelley to Mary Wollstonecraft, they can be viewed another way.

As I suggested earlier, Mary Shelley has depicted herself as Walton whilst her dead mother is the sister Mrs Saville.  Mary was a teenager when she penned Frankenstein, Walton is an explorer.  The teenage years are when young people try many things for the first time.  In other words, teenagers are explorers.

It is obvious that Shelley both loved and mourned her mother – she would read on her grave.  In Frankenstein, she has placed Mrs Saville in the home.  The sense of Mrs Saville being tied to her domestic quarters is obvious, so distinct in fact, that it suggests the home we never leave – the coffin.  The sub text is sly; it is similar to having a rag of ether placed over your face whilst you are unaware of it.  In other words, it creeps up on you insidiously but once you are conscious of it, it is obviously there.  The message is loud and clear to the dead mother – “Look at me, this is living.  Look at what you are missing by abandoning me.”  Fundamentally, the first letter is all about bravado –”I am an explorer of life and you are tied to the domesticity of the grave.”

When we read the second letter there is a huge change of mood.  The teenager who has bragged, strutted and portrayed herself as a complete adult returns to the isolation of a toddler missing her parents.  Shelley as Walton laments her loneliness.  Even though there are many men aboard the ship, Walton suffers from a sense of alienation.

“I have no friend, Margaret: when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment, no-one will endeavour to sustain me in dejection.” (2)

Letter three is a short missive.  Walton does not speak of personal matters.  He merely discusses the weather.  However, in the last paragraph he tells Margaret that he will “not rashly encounter danger.  I will be cool, persevering and prudent.” (3)   I would strongly suggest that this is Shelley writing to the dead Wollstonecraft.   She is telling her that although she is embarking on a voyage of motherhood, she can and will look after herself.   The message is ambivalent.  It partly consoles the mother that she doesn’t need to worry about her daughter.  Contrastingly, it also says that she has had to learn to steer her own vessel onto safe waters because the captain jumped ship.

Shelley is a mistress of signposts.  We have to be vigilant when we read her.  She throws small clues into the text which the eye might skim over.  A good example of this is the way Walton has signed the first three letters to his sister.  They are signed – Your affectionate brother, R. Walton; Your affectionate brother Robert Walton and Most affectionately yours, R.W.  (4)  By signing each letter differently, Shelley is depicting changes in Walton’s moods.   Fundamentally, the changes in Walton’s moods are a teenage girl’s conflicting emotions towards the dead mother she is desperate to communicate with.

Notes.

  1. Shelley, Mary, Frankenstein 1818 text.

(Oxford World’s Classics.)

  1. ‘ibid; p.8
  2. ‘ibid’,p.11
  3. ‘ibid’ p.8,p11.
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Filed under Frankenstein, Literary Criticism

6 Great Reasons to Work with Teenagers.

Teenagers have always got bad press.  It is because they are fresh, innovative and rebellious.  Almost nothing can beat their optimism and joy when they are doing well at something they love.  I see this when I watch drama students performing.  Less than 100 yards away, I  also see a group of teenagers spraying water bottles for no reason except that they are redundant.  I use the word redundant because it means surplus to requirement; when I see dead eyes I am sure that this is how many teenagers feel – surplus to requirement.  These teens might still be at school or they might be unemployed.  Whatever the case, they are still redundant in the sense I am using because they are not being directed into finding what makes them want to get up in the morning.  It could mean that they will never feel  fully part of society.  I know they are told that they have to pass exams and get a job.  However, this is telling them what they have to do – they need to find out what they WANT to do.  When young people have no direction, they do not know their place in society – they are out in the margins looking in.  On the other hand, when a teenager has a self directed goal, they don’t need to be pushed to pass exams or get a job.  They WANT to do both.  Work experience is a step for teenagers finding what they really want to do with the rest of their lives.  I believe that even if it is just an hour a week, we can ALL benefit from having a teenager working with us.  My teenage son works with me.  Here are just some of the reasons it’s great to work with a teenager.

Technology know how.  I use a computer daily but do tend to be set in my ways in what I use.  I can find out how to do new things but it all takes time.  Time is not in abundance in my life so I will not use new ideas or pieces of technology because I haven’t got the time to learn how to use them.  This is where working with my teenage son helps.  He sits at the laptop and works miracles for me.  He saves me hours a week.

Laughter and joy.  I have always enjoyed humour.  When something really tickles me I can laugh until I feel like I am wearing a Victorian corset.  A couple of years ago, I  realised that I no longer laughed like I used to do.  It occurred to me that the responsibility of family finances, a career, motherhood, a home and health issues had made me a bit of a serious person.  If I am totally honest, I was horrified.  I remembered a younger me and wanted the fun part of her back and quickly.  Working with a teenager can do that for you.  When we are in parent mode, if there is a problem the parent  sorts it out.  However, when we work with our teenagers – the problem is shared.  Teenagers are more likely to laugh when things go pear shaped.  I don’t mean serious issues but jobs which can be straightened out.  Teenagers giggle and it is infectious.  Some of our catastrophes have had us bent over double with laughter.

It encourages other young people to look at your business. When a teenager is involved in your business, it gives it a young appeal.  For instance, at Loony Literature, we are trying to inspire young people to read and write more.  We put videos and podcasts out to get young readers and writers interested.  My son appears in both videos and podcasts which demonstrates that we are not a group of adults trying to lecture kids.  Also, by having a teen in videos and podcasts, it encourages other young people to do something similar themselves.

It helps us see our business through a young person’s perspective.  The children and teenagers in the world at the moment are tomorrow’s customers.  As grown ups, sometimes we are so busy, we don’t realise that people and their needs are rapidly changing.  When we have a teenager working with us, if we allow them enough voice – which we should – we are allowed into the world as they see it.  For instance, I have been amazed at the way children and teenagers play together on the internet.  When I was a child, I would meet my friends and we would play in the nearby woods.  We lived in a world of our own make believe.  My favourite game was being on a deserted island – I know – in reality it would be a nightmare but that is children for you.  Adults constantly say that children don’t play any more, that they are always on computers.  What many adults don’t realise is that children play the same sort of games that they used to play but on the internet.  My son played a game about a time travelling café with other kids on the internet for months.  It was a whole complete world which they had made up.  They have also been secret agents uncovering a mole in a top toy manufacturer.  The use of shared creativity and playfulness is endless.  If I had not been lucky enough to be shown the world through a teen’s perspective, I would not know about of any that.  Working with a teen has given me an insight which can be used to promote Loony Literature.  I think this might be the case for many businesses.

Work experience. – At school, teenagers are nearly always with other people who are the same age as them.  It is often the same in college.  Suddenly, they are in the workplace and everybody else is at least twice their age.  It’s no wonder they can appear sullen.  Their past experiences of grown ups often falls into two categories –a) family and friends who they know or b) figures of authority like teachers.  Teenagers are often self conscious.  When they are thrown head first into a dual world of work and middle aged strangers, they often retreat into themselves.  This is why they need work experience before they leave education.

Confidence –  The last two go hand in hand.  Work experience, if handled properly, can give teenagers the confidence to pursue the career they really want.  As all ex teenagers will remember, it is a time of extreme highs followed by sky diving lows.  These are emotions which come and go like cats constantly coming in and going out again.  Confidence, however, is something which sits inside us and probably influences every decision we take.  Teenagers who are given work experience in a field which they believe is “not for people like them”, might actually acquire the confidence to gain the examination results and pursue a career, they could only dream about.  Surely that would make a better world for all of us.

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Filed under For Teens, Parenting

6 Great Reasons To Read To Teens.

Solitary reading is a recent pastime.  Traditionally, a book was read to an audience.  Since people could speak they have gathered around fires exchanging stories.  Wonderful family traditions can be built on communal reading – I read a Victorian ghost story to the family every Christmas Eve.  We sit by the fire in a candle lit room and collectively enjoy the atmosphere.  It’s very Charles Dickens.

Poster promoting reading by Charles Dickens in...

Poster promoting reading by Charles Dickens in Nottingham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Great literature wrestles with difficult subjects.  Sometimes when we try discussing a subject with our teens, it can sound like we are preaching and our well meant words fall on ear phone ears.  However, when we read to our teens, difficult subjects arise naturally and we can talk about them as part of our reading experience.  For instance, in Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Doctor Jekyll takes chemical substances which change both his appearance and his behaviour.  In effect, it ruins his life.  When we chat with our teens about their opinion of Doctor Jekyll, we usually find that they have already made up their minds about him and his actions.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde po...

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde poster. Converted losslessly from .tif to .png by uploader. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Schools do not have time to cover a full novel because of their tight curriculum.    At this point, I expect parents are wondering, who does have time to read a full novel to a teenager especially as they could read it themselves.  To cover the last point first, many great novels are being overlooked because teenagers are not being introduced to them.  Many teenagers read novels from our literary heritage because they have to to pass exams.  This gives out the wrong message about these great works of fiction.  If we offer lounging on the sofa, having a piece of cake and being introduced to the world of Laurie Lee’s “Cider With Rosie”, without having to write an essay on it, it’s an appealing proposition.  As for the time factor, reading sessions can replace: watching programmes which nobody really wants to watch, time spent complaining of boredom, time spent squabbling or staring at a computer screen because there seems nothing more interesting to do.

Cider with Rosie. This rather overgrown cider ...

Cider with Rosie. This rather overgrown cider press is just off the B4070, where the path leads up to Wickridge Hill. It's only a quarter of a mile from Slad where Laurie Lee, of "Cider with Rosie" fame was a regular at the Woolpack Inn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading to our teenagers aids bonding.  Before our children can read, most of us, read them bedtime stories at least.  The beaming child’s face gives us the sense of joy which only parenting can release. The child gets to a certain reading stage though and we feel that we no longer need to read to them.  Often, parents and teenagers can seem to grow apart because although they share a home, they live in different worlds.  Reading to our teenagers gives us something to share with them, therefore something to discuss.  I love Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, my teenage son doesn’t.  We have stimulating arguments about it.  It’s better than quarrelling over the fact that he hasn’t put his dirty socks in the wash.

Promotional photo of Boris Karloff from The Br...

Promotional photo of Boris Karloff from The Bride of Frankenstein as Frankenstein's monster. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading to our teens balances the relationship between child and parent as it empowers them to read to us.  If we read to them, after a while they will choose books, stories etc to read to us. It gives them self esteem and therefore balances the teenager/parent struggle.  Teenagers who have a sense of control in their lives are easier to live with.  Having their parents listening to their choice of literature gives them a feeling of autonomy.

Teenagers are the adults of the future and we need them to embrace our great literary heritage.  We need them to read to their future children.  By reading to our teens we are promoting a love and understanding of literature.  We are sending out the message “do as I do, not as I say.”

Happy reading.

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Filed under Education, Parenting