Harold Jaffe's nonfiction


by Harold Jaffe

(directed by James Whale, 1935)

Shelley: death by water.
Byron: death in battle (sort of).
Mary Shelley, the poet's wife, Wollstonecraft's daughter, outlives her royal paramours, continues to write, but nothing with the purchase of Frankenstein: the Modern Prometheus.
Nor will Mary Shelley's monster die for as long as godless demi-creators aspire to Godhood.
In a prologue we view the three in a Geneva castle discussing Mary's monster.
Byron, with the most famous club foot in literature, limps but wears mauve pantaloons and adores hearing his own voice.
Shelley, possibly thinking of Plato, is in an amiable fog.
No worries: Mary Shelley will hold her own with those immortal bounders.
And now James Whale's super flick unfurls.

What of Dr. Pretorius?

Played by James Whale's fave: the inimitable high-camp Ernest Thesiger.
Pretorius adores gin.
In his scholar's skullcap, together with Henry Frankenstein, he proposes a toast to "Gods and Monsters."
Frankenstein hired louts to raid graves for fresh corpses.
Pretorius claims to have grown his souls from "cultures."

When I hear the word culture, I reach for my iphone.

Ensemble, aided by a providential storm, Frankenstein-Pretorius create a prospective monster's bride.
Elsa Lanchester does double-duty, as Mary Shelley and with art-deco electrified hair, the monster's bride.
Truly, she is better off with monster Karloff than with her husband, real-time Charles Laughton, formidably ugly.
Yearly, he would read Dickens' A Christmas Carol on the Ed Sullivan variety show.
He was known to play with himself on the set and didn't like girls.
The monster is keen on girls, platonically of course.
Alas, the bride loathes the monster.
She prefers the Baron, Henry Frankenstein.
She is upward mobile.

Just like a womanoid.

Predictably, the villagers with their obligatory torches, monitored by the doltish burgomaster, crucify the monster — or just about.
Only the blind hermit, who plays Ave Maria on the violin, cottons to the creature, takes him in.
Bandages the hurt-by-humans monster.
Teaches him to grunt-speak.
Refined music and charity.
Byron possessed one but not the other.
It was rumored that once, Byron, drunk and in high dudgeon, displayed his penis in the House of Lords, then proceeded to urinate from a balcony onto the head of the Viscount something-or-other who had previously expressed an unflattering word about Byron's verses.
He was given to fat, hence swam the Hellespont, employing breaststroke solely.

That was long before freestyle, right?

He also fornicated, vomited, took laxatives.
Man-child Shelley, stooped, goofyish, proves unexpectedly virile.
Incomprehensible angel.
In the flick's climax the ardent monster and revolted bride perish together, along with Dr. Pretorius.
Meanwhile, the hubristic Baron slinks away to be reincarnated into the emperor of profiles, Basil Rathbone, in the next segment, when Karloff, the monster himself, is reborn.

Monsters perish, ultimately.
Monstrous acts fester.

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