Tag Archives: Frankenstein

Hallowe’en – How to build a monster easily!

I’ve had a few emails asking for tips on how to make monsters and ghoulish figures.  So I’ve taken an extract from the play “Frankenstein’s Revenge – a play full of shifty manoeuvres and time travel” to demonstrate how we built the Monster’s Bride.  Using these ideas you can build your very own monster for Hallowe’en and then bring it out year after year for the spooky season.  Note: having a resident monster is very helpful for answering the door to unwanted callers – you simply have it sitting in a chair by the open door –   it’s amazing the effect it it has on people.

Franknestein's Revenge

The Monster’s Bride in her best outfit.

How We Made The Monster’s Bride.

 

We wanted to build Frankenstein’s Laboratory to demonstrate our vision of it to children.  In the beginning, before the play was finished, we imagined that we would have The Monster on the table where Dr. Frankenstein was working on him.  So we needed to get a monster.  When we were thinking about getting The Monster, we decided to buy a mannequin and put blood and warts on him, a mask and then dress him.  The problem was that we did not know a lot about mannequins and bought one cheaply over the internet.  Originally, we wanted to lay The Monster on the table but when we received the mannequin he would not lie down.  We had purchased a mannequin which would only sit up.  After much thought, we decided that The Monster would be sitting in a chair and we would have The Monster’s Bride lying on Dr Frankenstein’s work table.

Frankenstein's Revenge.

These days we can buy masks galore on the internet, at car boot sales, in shops and on markets.

After the mistake with The Monster, we decided to build The Monster’s Bride ourselves.  It was suggested to me to use a frogman’s suit as had been done for Doctor Who’s original Cybermen.  Unbelievably, as this was suggested, one came up for sale at the local auction house.  So there I was waving my paddle with vigour and landing a fantastic bargain.

Frankenstein's Revenge.

Bubble wrap is a great way to stuff a skull and it adds to the effect on the eyeballs when they are added. So when you receive a parcel, never, ever throw your bubble wrap away.

The first job was to stuff the suit and sew up the openings at the wrists and ankles.  Don’t ever underestimate how many old clothes it takes to stuff a frogman’s suit.  I was desperate to get it finished and in the end shoved everything within reach into it.  Unfortunately, that exercise returns to haunt me when I can’t find a certain skirt.  I eye the monster’s bride and wonder what she is hiding in there.  By the time I came to stitch up the arms and legs, my own arms and hands were aching from the constant compressing of old garments.  We had a body.  (Another way to make a body is to stuff a jumper and sew up the arms and neck.  After this, stuff a pair of trousers and sew the ankles up.  Sew the jumper and trousers together to produce a body.)

Frankenstein's Revenge.

Cheap bathroom decorations bought off a market, car boot sale or charity shop make weird eyeballs especially when encased in bubble wrap.

The next part of the monster’s bride was easy.  That is, apart from struggling to put a pair of black fish net tights on a stuffed, floppy frogsuit.  I dressed the body in a long skirt and jacket and then attached a gory hand and foot, purchased off the internet.  All that was missing was a head.  The internet is fantastic for masks.  I bought an alien looking mask and stuffed it with bubble wrap.  Two small blue plastic turtles fitted nicely behind the eyes.  I used a coat hanger inside the monster’s jacket to attach the head.  It simply latches onto the coat hanger’s hook.  The monster’s bride was born.

Frankenstein's Revenge.

So there, you have a head in a few short steps.

Frankenstein’s Revenge is aimed at introducing children to the novel “Frankenstein” but it wants to do much more than that.  The intention is to use it as a springboard for creativity, including building a monster.  Once the main body is made, it can be used again and again for different productions; it simply needs a change of costume to convert it into a different character.

Frankenstein's Revenge

Slipping a coat hanger inside the monster’s coat makes it easy to attach the head to the body and it also means that you can swap heads easily.

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Inspiration and Us – Homosexuality and Blackmail in 1808!

Inspiration and Us – Can a time inspire us?

Loony Literature thrives on inspiring others.  We like to share our experiences with you, in the hope that, in turn, you might also be inspired to write something of your own.  We like to use Literature as a springboard for our own creations, this does not mean that it always has to be fiction that we write.  Literature can inspire articles too. In this post we go off on a creative tangent.  We hope you enjoy the journey and feel compelled to do something yourself after reading this.

At the moment we are working on a play inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.   I have been intrigued by Mary Shelley’s life and it set me off wondering what my own ancestors were doing around about that time.  I imagined that compared to Mary and Percy Shelley, my own discoveries would seem dull.  I could not have been more wrong.  I wanted a picture of what my ancestors were doing after Mary Shelley’s birth 1797 up until the publication of Frankenstein 1818 – that was my springboard, my starting point.  The following article is what came out of thinking about Mary Shelley’s time.

HOMOSEXUALITY AND BLACKMAIL IN 1808

In 1808, my 4X great uncle, Robert Escritt and his friend John Paul were in the pillory 3 times for conspiring to blackmail concerning homosexuality; homosexuality was a hanging offence then.  In fact, they were one of the last recorded cases for the pillory in Driffield, East Yorkshire Reading the court documents for his trial would be enough to make any relative squirm at being related to such a cad.  However, following up my research, I uncovered a shocking twist in the tale which included injustice, villainy and transportation.

Robert Escritt was an ordinary agricultural labourer who by a wicked twist of fate had his normal life turned into what can only be imagined as a nightmare. Robert Escritt was born in 1780 at Kirkburn, East Yorkshire to William Escritt and Elizabeth Bentley.  He married Ann Braithwaite on Boxing Day (December 26th) 1802 at St Michael and All Angels Church, Garton on the Wolds and they lived in Garton on the Wolds.

English: St Michael and All Angels Church, Gar...

English: St Michael and All Angels Church, Garton on the Wolds, East Riding of Yorkshire, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine Robert Escritt, like thousands of other agricultural labourers, wearing a wide brimmed hat to protect himself  from the elements, a smock which would reach down to his knees and his only pair of boots made of leather with steel toe caps and hobnailed soles.

 Agricultural labourers were at the bottom of the village hierarchy.  At the top of the hierarchy in village life would be the landowner or village squire.  After him would be the tenant farmer who tended the landowner’s livestock and land.  Usually the tenant farmer would be provided with a farmhouse.  The farmers who tended a large farm with fertile soil would be able to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle.  In the middle of the village hierarchy would be the skilled craftsmen such as blacksmiths, carpenters, saddlers, thatchers and coopers.  These men were vital to the smooth running of the village.   At the very bottom of the heap would be the poor labourers like Robert Escritt and John Paul.   They would have constantly done back breaking work but the landowner would have enjoyed most of the profit.  The landowner would give the farmer his share and the labourers would get a pittance for all the relentless work they were forced to do in order to earn a meagre living.

Agricultural labourers were often the poorest people in England.  Even though their rewards were minimal, the work and suffering they had to endure was not.  For instance, during the planting season the whole family would be expected to work out in the fields, in freezing cold weather, from dawn to dusk.  Alternatively, during harvest the whole family could be toiling in the fields from dawn to dusk in the blazing sun.  He certainly would not have had much in the way of comfort but that life was probably viewed as much better than what was to come.

Looking for one ancestor can often bring up another one with the same name and an interesting story.  I was not aware of Robert Escritt’s existence until I was looking for my two of my great grandfathers by the same name.  I had decided to look on the Beverley Treasure House Archives.  The search for Robert Escritt brought up the form QSF/399/B/6 – Indictment of John Paul and Robert Escritt of Garton labourers 26th April 1808.  I knew it could not be one of my direct line Roberts as one was a farmer who had died in 1800 and the other was a cooper who was yet to be born.

After looking on Familysearch to find out if I could place that Robert Escritt, I found out that he had married Ann Braithwaite.  I referred to my family tree on Ancestry.com and was able to place Robert Escritt as my 4X great uncle.  A trip to the Treasure House was in order to see what was in the document.

Was Robert Escritt a murderer, a burglar or a petty thief?

The journey was met with both trepidation and excitement.  I knew he had done something unlawful but what?  As the archivist brought the 200 year old document to me, my mind was buzzing with every single crime that could be committed – was he a murderer, a burglar, a petty thief?  The list was endless but  I was nowhere near the truth.

The document was placed before me and weighted down.  The first court hearing was 28th July 1807.  Robert Escritt and John Paul were

“persons of ill name and fame and dishonest and unlawfully contriving to deprive one Francis Brown the younger of his good name, credit and reputation and also to obtain and get themselves of and from large sums of money on the 10th day of July in the reign of our sovereign Lord George the third with accusing him of the unnatural act of sodomy, commonly known as buggary”

It was stated that John Paul and Robert Escritt conspired to accuse Francis Brown, gentleman, of sodomy to try to obtain large amounts of money from him.

On the 11th day of July they had gone to Henry Grimston Esquire, being one of His Majesty’s justice, to keep the peace, and told him that Francis Brown had sodomised John Paul.   Robert Escritt had witnessed it.   If they were blackmailing Francis Brown for sodomy when he was not guilty, but he would not pay up, surely they would have gone on to another victim who might be so frightened that he would hand over the cash.  It does not make sense that they would have gone to the magistrate, after all they were supposed to be in it simply for the money.  However, they were poor labourers and Francis Brown was a gentleman farmer, they were not believed.  They were taken to court and suffered the humiliation of embarrassing cross examination on a subject which in those days was considered so terrible that it was a hanging offence.  On the 12th of January 1808 both men were found guilty of conspiracy to blackmail.

The cross examinations in the court, about sodomy, would have been deeply humiliating.  The punishment to come would be more so and physically painful.

The sentence was a year in the House of Correction and to stand in the pillory at Driffield for three consecutive market days.   The court document states that Robert Escritt and John Paul should stand in the pillory for one hour between twelve and 2 o’clock in the afternoon.  Robert Escritt and John Paul would have had the humiliation of standing at the top of Exchange Street, Driffield for 3 consecutive market days.   Their heads and hands would have been put into the carved out slots in the wood and then a second piece of wood would have been closed down upon them so that they could not move from the missiles which would have been thrown at them.   Decayed fruit and vegetables, rotten eggs, excrement, dead rats and sometimes hard rocks would be hurled at the person in the pillory.  Often, a pillory would be rotated so that the public could get a good look at the person trapped in it.

English: Driffield, East Riding of Yorkshire, ...

English: Driffield, East Riding of Yorkshire, England. c. 1838 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The House of Correction at Beverley is famous for holding Dick Turpin the highwayman.

Robert Escritt and John Paul were also sentenced to one year in the House of Correction at Beverley.   The House of Correction at Beverley is famous for holding Dick Turpin the highwayman in 1738.  His real name was John Palmer and he was incarcerated in the House of Correction for shooting his landlord’s cockerel.  In those days the House of Correction was situated at Beverley Guildhall.  The House of Correction had one small courtyard for all prisoners with a work shed in it but no water.  When the prisoners were allowed water, the gaoler would have to fetch it from across the way.  Men and women felons each had a separate day room upstairs and the room where the women would sleep would adjoin it.  The smell was overwhelming for lack of sewers.  Robert Escritt and John Paul would have slept in one of the two dirty cells below.  They measured about four square yards and were badly ventilated.  There was a small window with bars in each room.  Their beds would have had straw in the ticking and they were allowed two blankets and a rug for warmth.  To pass the time they would have been made to pound tile-shards which they were paid 6d a bushel for.

What happened to Francis Brown, the gentleman farmer?  I searched for him on Ancestry.com. and found him in the England and Wales Criminal Register 1791-1892.  He was transported for 7 years.  It was time to research in The Treasure House archives again.

A week earlier, I had been reading what a dishonest person my ancestor was for intending to deprive Francis Brown of his good name and reputation.  The document before me named Francis Brown as a common cheat.  He had promised George Sproxton, a tailor from Driffield, a house and land for £150.  The house and land had belonged to the late Francis Brown, Brown’s father.  The property had never been Brown junior’s to sell.  He simply intended to relieve George Sproxton of his money.

Always follow up any name in a story.  It is easy to overlook shocking facts.

Robert Escritt settled down to live what seems to be a quiet family life.  He returned home to Garton-on-the-Wolds to his wife Ann.  She gave birth to Robert in 1810 and Hannah in 1812.  Robert and Ann are both on the 1841 and 1851 census, still living in Garton-on-the Wolds.  Even at the age of 71, Robert put his occupation down as an agricultural labourer.  He died at the age of 77, which considering the mortality rate of the period and what he had been through, he survived quite well.

So, can a time inspire us?  I think that it can, for instance – the above piece is an article but it could also have been turned into a story – maybe it will be one day.  The point is that one of the most inspirational things you can do is ask yourself a question – what were my ancestors doing whilst Mary Shelley was growing up?  I know what one of mine was doing – how about yours?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Let’s Talk About FRANKENSTEIN 1

Loony Literature is about being creative with literature.   It is about creative reading as well as creative writing.  As both a lover and graduate of this subject, I positively enjoy deconstructing texts from different points of view – that is what studying literature is about.  It is not about knowing every quotation from Shakespeare as non literary people often assume.  It is about taking a text and analysing and evaluating it whilst backing it all up with textual evidence.  We can add to our arguments by reading the text from a certain perspective e.g. a feminist or a Marxist point of view.  If we enjoy psychoanalytical theory we can use Lacan or even go down a Freudian route.  The possibilities are endless and as long as we can back our argument up with textual evidence, we are free to do this.  There is no right or wrong answer in literature – it is creativity heaven.

Much has been written about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; in fact, far too much to mention in this introduction.  I have been using the text as a springboard to write a play and workshops.  However, as all great pieces of fiction tend to do, it has demanded that I read it yet again from a totally different angle.

I love the fact that Frankenstein was written by a teenager.  The other detail about Mary Shelley which sits heavily in my consciousness is that her mother died through complications following her birth.  I am both daughter and mother.  The two relationships are entwined in my being like thread in tapestry.  I feel so much sympathy for Mary Shelley as a young girl growing up with only other people’s stories of her mother.

These two facts have made me read Frankenstein again.  I am going to read it as a subconscious cathartic writing exercise for Mary Shelley.  In other words, Shelley wrote herself as Frankenstein.  The monster is her dead mother, Mary Wollstonecraft.  As a teenager, Mary would read on her mother’s grave in St Pancras Churchyard.  The mother was beloved but unobtainable.  It is bad enough as a teenager when your parents do not seem to understand your emotional turmoil.  Mary did not simply have intentionally deaf ears to contend with but dead ears.  Mary needed to find a way to communicate her isolation. I believe that Frankenstein can be read as a letter from Mary Shelley to Mary Wollstonecraft.  How else can an abandoned daughter let her dead mother know what she went through whilst growing up without her?  Fundamentally, as the dead mother was a literary forerunner of her day, there was only one way to get such a mother’s attention and that was to create her own literary masterpiece.  Ironically, Mary Shelley conjured up her own dead mother in the position of abandoned child.

If the monster is supposed to portray her dead mother, why did she make him male?  We all know that women used to constantly die of childbirth in those days; by re-inventing her mother as male, she prevents this taking place.  She needs to keep her mother alive as she lives out the story of isolation Mary felt as a motherless child.

I am at the beginning of this reading of Frankenstein and hope that you will join me on the journey.  I will be making regular posts as I travel on my own new reading journey of Frankenstein.  My model for Frankenstein might not work out.  Ultimately, by offering a hypothesis and then writing a notebook on my reading, I hope that readers of the posts will come up with their own valuable insights.  If this works, I will tackle other delicious texts in the same way.  So let’s talk about Frankenstein.

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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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