Anais Nin: Writer, Wildcat, Bigamist and Bon Vivant

 

She was an author, a philosopher, a makeshift psychoanalyst, a flamenco dancer, an actress and an international woman of mystery. Her love affairs were legendary, and her tell-all erotica is hailed by critics as the finest ever written.

Born To Be Wild

Anais Nin, birth name “Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell” (you can see why she shortened it!) was born on this day, February 21, 1903 in Nueilly, France. Her father, Joaquín Nin, was Cuban pianist of Spanish descent, and her mother Rosa Culmell, was a Cuban singer of French and Danish descent. Even at birth she seemed destined for an artistic life which would lead her across continents. 

Sadly, her parents separated when Anais was only two years old. Rosa then took Anais and her brothers to Barcelona and later New York City.  Anais began high school but dropped out at age sixteen. She then worked as an artists model.

In 1923, she found herself living in Havana, Cuba. It was there she met and married her first husband, Hugh Parker Guiler.

The couple moved to Paris. Hugh was a banker and sometime artist who dabbled in film making.  During this time Anais began to pursue her interest in writing. She kept volumes of scandalous diaries which would later be published as part of her erotic collections. Her first published work, however, was a critical evaluation of author D. H. Lawrence called D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study. 

She also studied Flamenco dancing.

The Psyche and The Pen

Anais became interested in psychoanalysis. With the onset of new research and practices, the human mind was now Freud’s territory, ripe for childhood trauma and sexual symbolism. Anais studied with prominent doctors René Allendy and Otto Rank. Both men eventually became her lovers.  It was a somewhat “sophisticated” kind of hanky panky, bordering on mentorship (at least according to Nin.)  She said of Otto rank:

“As he talked, I thought of my difficulties with writing, my struggles to articulate feelings not easily expressed. Of my struggles to find a language for intuition, feeling, instincts which are, in themselves, elusive, subtle, and wordless.”

Nin eventually found her voice, later publishing several novels, journals and short stories including Winter of Artifice, A Café in Space, The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal, Delta of Venus, Little Birds and Under a Glass Bell. 

“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.”
― Anais Nin

Bohemian Rhapsody

During her years in Paris, Anais led an unconventional lifestyle which was almost systematically removed from her husband Hugh. (Reportedly, Hugh requested that he never be mentioned in any of her published diaries.)

Anais slid into a literary circle which included Henry Miller, John Steinbeck, Antonin Artaud, Gore Vidal, James Agee, and Lawrence Durrell. She had love affairs with some of them. Even steadfast homosexual Gore Vidal was known to write her romantic letters. Most famously, Nin was involved with Henry Miller. She also seems to have fallen in love with Henry’s wife June, an irresistible, cunning and beautiful femme fatale.  Their relationship is one of much speculation, and was examined in the 1990 film Henry and June. 

Anais was obsessed with June, often using her as an archetype in her fiction. In her diary Henry and June Anais wrote poetically and reverently of her infatuation, even stating, “I have become June.” Although Anais denied having an affair with June, she continuously gave her money, jewelry and clothing, even to the point of leaving her own self broke for June’s benefit.

In the summer of 1939, with the Nazis closing in and the threat of war, Anais and Hugh left Paris and relocated to New York City. There Anais continued her sexual escapades. She reunited with her old psychoanalyst, Otto Rank, and moved into his apartment.  (The relationship between Anais and Hugh is unclear at this point. Maybe he realized he simply could not control her, or maybe he no longer cared.)

While living with Otto,  Anais actually began to act as a psychoanalyst herself. She “counseled”  patients in the room next to Rank’s, and also had sex with them on the psychoanalytic couch!

After several months, even the voracious wildcat Anais could not keep up the pace.  She quit, stating: “I found that I wasn’t good because I wasn’t objective. I was haunted by my patients. I wanted to intercede.”

L.A. Woman

In 1947, while still living in America and still married to Hugh, Anais met the actor Rupert Pole.  After a chance encounter in a Manhattan elevator, the two ended up dating and traveled to California together.

Anais was sixteen years older than Pole.  On March 17, 1955,  even though she was still married to Hugh, Anais married  Pole in Quartzsite, Arizona! She then lived with him in Los Angeles.

What was Hugh doing all this time? Well, he either was clueless, or he pretended to be clueless. Biographer Deirdre Bair alleges that Hugh knew everything, but “chose not to know”. Anais referred to her simultaneous marriages as her “bicoastal trapeze”. She wove a wild web around it. 

According to Deidre Bair: “Anais would set up these elaborate façades in Los Angeles and in New York, but it became so complicated that she had to create something she called the ‘lie box’. She had this absolutely enormous purse and in the purse she had two sets of checkbooks. One said ‘Anais Guiler’ for New York and another said ‘Anais Pole’ for Los Angeles. She had prescription bottles from California doctors and New York doctors with the two different names. And she had a collection of file cards. And she said, ‘I tell so many lies I have to write them down and keep them in the lie box so I can keep them straight.'”

In 1966, Nin had her marriage with Pole annulled, due to the legal issues arising from both Guiler and Pole trying to claim her as a dependent on their federal tax returns. (Yep. The IRS will get you ever time! 🙂 )

However, Anais continued to live with Pole until her death in 1977.

Believe it or not, love was not lost between Anais and Hugh. Prior to her death, Anais wrote to Hugh asking for his forgiveness. He wrote back that his life had been “more meaningful” because of her.  

A Jill of All Trades

In addition to her writing, Anais’ artistic endeavors also included work as an actress. In 1946 she appeared in the Maya Deren film Ritual in Transfigured Time. In 1952  she starred in Bells of Atlantis, a film directed by her husband Hugh under the name “Ian Hugo”.  In 1954 she had a role in the Kenneth Anger film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. 

When the Feminist Movement exploded in the 1960’s, Nin’s writing was examined under a new lens. She became something of a feminist icon. She was a popular lecturer and spoke at various universities. Anais herself, however, refused to be politically active and disassociated herself from Feminism. In 1973 she  received an honorary doctorate from the Philadelphia College of Art. She was  elected to the United States National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1974, and in 1976 was presented with a Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year award.

She even had a perfume named after her, Anais Anais by Cacherel!

Sadly, Anais was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1974.  She died  at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on January 14, 1977.

Her body was cremated, and her ashes were scattered over Santa Monica Bay in Mermaid Cove.  This brings me to my favorite Nin quote:

 

Happy Birthday Anais! You were one of a kind.

 

 

 

 

Empress Matilda: Treacherous Teen and Warrior Woman

 

Ah those Medieval queens! They really had it rough — often serving as pawns in games of marriage, forced to breed like cattle, and fighting endless battles in their quests for a bit of recognition.

Consider Empress Matilda of England. Born on this day, February 7, 1102, Matilda led a chaotic life. But no one could call her irresponsible.

Matilda was part of a powerful blood line, daughter of Henry I of England and granddaughter of William of Normandy — aka “William the Conqueror”.

Almost as soon as she was out of the cradle, Matilda became a vehicle for marriage. She was betrothed at age 8 to Henry V, King of the Romans. Her father considered this an advantageous marriage, as Matilda would be uniting with a prestigious family line. She traveled to Germany where she was put under the custody of Bruno, Archbishop of Trier. Matilda was then educated in German language and customs, and declared Queen of the Romans. At the tender age of 12 she was married.

To make matters even more shocking, Henry was sixteen years older than her. So yes, we are talking about a 12 year old girl married to a  28 year old man.

Apparently, that sort of thing was normal in those days.

By age 14, Matilda was already running her own royal household, dealing with political conflict in Europe, sponsoring royal grants, conducting ceremonies and staking her claim as Empress of the Holy Roman Empire.

Things did not go well for Henry and Matilda. It seems Henry was a bit of a tyrant, constantly jailing his chancellors and subjects. This led to rebellions. Eventually, Pope Paschal II excommunicated Henry from the church of Rome. Henry and Matilda, however, were not so willing to take their punishment. They countered Paschal by marching over the Alps and arriving in Italy with their armies. Paschal ran away.  His envoy, Antipope Gregory VIII, now under military pressure, agreed to crown Henry and Matilda at Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Weirdly, although Henry and Matilda were married for eleven years until he died in 1125, they never produced any children.  This barren status was bad for Matilda. She was now a widow at age 23. With no offspring, she could never exercise a role as an imperial regent. This left her with two choices; either marry again or become a nun.

Meanwhile, back in England, trouble was brewing.

Matilda’s father Henry I, King of England, had only two legitimate children; Matilda and her brother William. (Ironically, Henry actually fathered 22 illegitimate children! But only William and Matilda had a claim to the throne.)

In 1120, William died in a shipwreck. This left Matilda as the only heir to the crown.

King Henry I still had hopes of bearing another legitimate son. His first wife had died, but he remarried. His plan failed and he sired no more children. Of course, the big dilemma now was finding another husband for Matilda.

Her father decided the best match for her would be Geoffrey of Anjou. This alliance would strengthen relations between England and Normandy. However, there were a few problems. Geoffrey was only 13 years old. Perhaps Matilda, having been exploited herself, was not keen on taking a child husband.

She had little choice in the matter. The couple were married on June 17, 1128.  The newlyweds reportedly did not like each other very much. Matilda tried to get out of the union, leaving Normandy a several times. But Geoffrey always managed to force her back. Eventually, despite the fact that they were mismatched, they did have children. Their first son, Henry (yes another Henry!)  was born in 1133.

King Henry I reportedly was delighted with his grandson Henry. King Henry I died in 1135. This brought about the precarious question of who would take the throne. Although Matilda should have been the legitimate heir, a man known as Stephen of Blois, Matilda’s cousin, and one of old Henry’s favorite nephews, staked his claim.  Henry’s subjects had previously pledged themselves to Matilda, but many reneged on their pledge and followed Stephen. A woman had never ruled England before, and people did not take kindly to the idea.  They apparently preferred a British male king to a female ruler with a foreign husband.

Matilda, however, was not willing to give up. She had supporters — including Robert of Gloucester and King David I of Scotland. They attempted to overthrow Stephen with armies from Normandy.  So began the 19-year civil war known as The Anarchy.

Between 1138 and 1141, feuds between Matilda and Stephen put the country in chaos. In 1141, Matilda captured and imprisoned her cousin. She then began to make arrangements for her own coronation. However, it seems she still was unpopular with the people. Reportedly, Matilda imposed several taxes and placed sanctions upon her would-be subjects.  The people revolted. Growing animosity weakened Matilda’s claims. Then, Stephen’s wife (ironically, also named Matilda!) counter attacked with her own army.

Side note: Yes, I am wondering why they insisted upon naming everyone Matilda and Henry.

  • Henry I had at least one illegitimate daughter named Matilda.
  •  Stephen’s wife was named Matilda.
  • The Empress Matilda’s mother was also Matilda, aka Matilda of Scotland.
  • Eight rulers of England were named Henry.
  • Five rulers of France were named Henry.
  • Four rulers of Castile were named Henry.
  • Six Holy Roman Emperors were named Henry.
  • Seventeen Dukes of Bavaria were named Henry.

To be fair, I assume it had something to do with beliefs in the influence of names. The name Henry actually means “power” or “ruler”.  Matilda means “mighty in battle.” Appropriate! 🙂

Queen Matilda (Stephen’s wife) eventually defeated Empress Matilda. Empress Matilda was forced to release her cousin from prison. Stephen was officially crowned King of England in 1141.

Although Empress Matilda attempted more war strategies, setting up forces at Devizes Castle and attempting to oust Stephen for several more years, she was ultimately unsuccessful. She returned to Normandy in 1148. Her husband Geoffrey died in 1151. After Geoffrey’s death, Matilda ruled Anjou. She also set about trying to establish her son Henry as King of England.

Young Henry brought his armies to England with the intention of overthrowing Stephen.

Ironically, Henry somehow became Stephen’s “adopted son” and successor! When Stephen died in 1154, Henry took the throne as King Henry II. Henry married Eleanor of Aquitaine, another powerful Medieval Queen.

Empress Matilda lived to the ripe old age of 65, probably a record for women of her day. She died on September 11, 1167. In yet another sad, ironic twist, her tomb stone only identifies her as “Daughter of King Henry, wife of King Henry and mother of King Henry.”  (I guess they leave us to figure it out — Henry I of England, Henry V of Rome and Henry II of England, respectively.)

At any rate, Matilda remains a significant historical figure. Her battle with Stephen had a profound effect on politics of the time. Perhaps Matilda even paved the way for the many powerful queens that were eventually to rule England — Mary, Elizabeth I, Victoria and Elizabeth II.

Happy Birthday Empress Matilda! You put up a good fight.

 

 

 

Fearsome Females: A Tale of Two Pirates

 

They were two notorious cross-dressers who moved easily in the circles of men. Known as tough-talking, hard-drinking, immoral cutthroats, they were sexually promiscuous, hot tempered, sly and stealthy. They were often more ruthless than the men they sailed with.

Anne Bonny and Mary Read were swashbucklers who ventured boldly onto the high seas — a place where females were often banned. They helped usher in what was known as the “Golden Age of Piracy”.

On this day, November 28, 1720, Anne and Mary were both convicted of pirate crimes and sentenced to death. Both also managed to escape execution while the men of their crew swung from the gallows. They cleverly utilized both biology and feminine instinct. Together, they challenged the long standing sailors’ notion that women aboard ship are bad luck…

“Disguise, Thou Art a Wickedness.”

Anne Bonny was the illegitimate daughter of an Irish attorney named James Cormac, and his housemaid Mary Brennan. She was born in County Cork in 1698. Because her birth caused scandal and disgrace, her father left his family, taking baby Anne to live with him in London.

To avoid the further “scandal” of living with a little girl, Cormac reportedly began dressing his young daughter as a boy. (A scheme which probably taught Anne that girls had much to be ashamed of…)

Eventually Cormac took Anne and her mother to the Americas where they lived in the colony of North Carolina.

Mary Read was also taught cross-dressing as a young child. Mary was born in England in 1685. She, too, was an illegitimate child, the daughter of a sailor’s wife. The sailor had gone off to sea, abandoning the family. Mary had a half brother. He was the sailor’s legitimate child, and her mother, having been left penniless, was receiving money to raise the boy from his paternal grandmother. However, this boy died. Mary’s mother — not wanting to end her cash flow —  then began dressing Mary in boy’s clothes and passing her off as the brother. (A scheme which probably taught Mary that a boy was worth more than a girl…)

Rebel Rebel

Anne was described as “red-haired and pretty.” She was strong willed and became a rebellious teenager. Increasingly defiant, she eventually married John Bonny, a penniless sailor, against her father’s wishes. Cormac disowned her. The couple then moved to what is now Nassau, in the Bahamas, which was then considered a sanctuary for English pirates.

Anne quickly got bored with her unambitious husband. She took to hanging out in taverns and seducing the local pirates. There she met the edgy and flamboyant swashbuckler John Rackam, known as “Calico Jack” (so named for his loud clothing!)

The two became lovers and ran away together. Anne became a member of Calico Jack’s crew — still cross-dressing as a man. It is said that the other pirates never realized Anne was a woman until years later when she became pregnant with Jack’s child.

Meanwhile, back in England, Mary Read also continued her cross-dressing. She found out she could quickly get work as a boy and took several jobs. She soon began living as a full fledged man called “Mark”.  Mary/Mark was so convincing she was actually given a position in the British Navy!  She proved herself a worthy soldier, fighting in the Nine Years War.

But then, Mary fell in love with a Flemish soldier. They married, and for a while, Mary lived as a woman. She was a respectable wife. The couple bought and operated an inn in The Netherlands.

However, Mary’s husband died and the business went belly up. Desperate for work, Mary once again resumed her identity as a man and took to the high seas. But during peacetime, there was little chance for jobs in the military. It was then she decided to become a pirate, and (you guessed it!) took up with the boisterous and belligerent crew of Captain Calico Jack.

A Walk on the Wild Side

When Mary came aboard ship, it is said that the promiscuous Anne, thinking Mary was a man, almost immediately fell in love with “him.”

Anne then bared her own breasts, revealing herself as a woman. Mary must have thought the facade was fun — or perhaps she just had too much too lose in her true identity.  She kept up the ruse for a while, but when a jealous Calico Jack entered her bedchamber and threatened to slice her throat, Mary also revealed herself as a woman. This apparently subdued Jack’s envy.

What went on between the three of them after that is anyone’s guess, but by 1720, both women were pregnant.

The women had many adventures together. They were both feared and revered. In the book Black Barty; Bartholomew Roberts and His Pirate Crew 1718-1723, one victim  named Dorothy Thomas, left a description of Anne and Mary:

“They wore men’s jackets, and long trousers, and handkerchiefs tied about their heads: and … each of them had a machete and pistol in their hands and they cursed and swore at the men to murder her me. Yet I knew they were women, from the largeness of their breasts.”

On November 15, 1720,  Calico Jack’s ship was captured.

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum!

One night, having taken port in Negril Point, off the coast of Jamaica, Calico Jack and his scurvy knaves decided to have a celebration. They hosted a rum party with another crew of English pirates. Apparently, all of them were pretty drunk and had no clue of their fate when pirate hunter Captain Jonathon Barnett sneaked in the harbor. Barnett took the pirate ship by surprise, disabling it with a rampage of fire. Jack and his men ran to the hold and hid for the duration of the battle — too inebriated to fight back.

Anne and Mary. however, did not give up! They stayed on deck, battling to the end, firing their pistols and swinging their cutlasses.

According to one legend, Mary was so disgusted with the men that at one point she stopped fighting, peered over the entrance of the hold and yelled, “If there’s a man among ye, ye’ll come up and fight like the man ye are to be!” No one responded. Mary then fired a shot down into the hold, killing one of them.

Eventually Barnett’s forces took over. The women knew they had to surrender. The entire crew were imprisoned.

Calico Jack was scheduled to be executed by hanging on November 18. His final request was to see Anne. Upon her visit to his cell, she had only one thing to say to him:

“If you had fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.”

Ten days later, on November 28, she and Mary stood trial at the Admiralty Court in St. Jago de la Vega, Jamaica. Both of them were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. BUT — remember I said they were both pregnant by this time? It turned out to be their saving grace — also known as “pleading the belly.” Executions for pregnant women were always postponed until the child was born.

Sadly, Mary died of a fever in prison. She was buried on April 28, 1721 at Saint Catherine’s Church in Jamaica.

As for Anne, there is no record of her release, execution, or death. It is suspected she may have escaped and returned to Nassau. In his 1724 book A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, author Charles Johnson wrote:

“She was continued in Prison, to the Time of her lying in, and afterwards reprieved from Time to Time; but what is become of her since, we cannot tell; only this we know, that she was not executed.”

Not bad for a gender bending bastard who managed to outlive Captain Jack, as well as leave a swashbuckling legacy behind her! 🙂

 

 

Bloody Valentines: Mary Shelley’s Tell-Tale Heart

 

We all know that Mary Shelley is the author of Frankenstein, a phenomenal work of Gothic horror. But did you know that the gory details of Mary Shelley’s life itself read better than any novel? Perhaps the strangest fact of all is that she kept her dead husband’s heart as a keepsake, carrying it with her and storing it in her drawer until her own death in 1851!

In honor of Valentine’s Day and my February Women in Horror Series, I would be remiss if I did not include the strange, romantic and horrific life of Mary Shelley.

In her short lifetime, Mary Godwin Shelley saw a great deal of death: her mother, three of her own children, her half sister Fanny Imlay, her husband Percy Shelley, her step-mother, her father and father-in-law. It comes as no surprise that the woman who experienced a cavalcade of grim reapers became obsessed with resurrecting and recreating life. Her character, mad scientist Victor Frankenstein, was the embodiment of this obsession.

Bleak Beginnings

Mary Godwin’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft was an early feminist and free thinker. She is best known for her work A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Wollstonecraft argued that women, given the proper education, were “intellectually equivalent” to men –  a “radical” idea for the times.

Mary Wollstonecraft died of a post partum infection when daughter Mary was less than a month old. Little Mary’s father, William Godwin, a political activist and publisher, raised her along with her half sister Fanny Imlay – a child from another of Mary Wollstonecraft’s relationships. Godwin took a new wife –  one Mary Jane Clairmont – who had two children of her own, Claire and Charles. The family set up housekeeping in London where William opened a publishing company that eventually went bankrupt.

Young Mary was given a somewhat radical education by her free-thinking father. When she was just seventeen, she became acquainted with the poet Percy Bysse Shelley – a friend and “political disciple” of William Godwin. Percy was twenty-two.

Percy and Mary fell deeply in love. The only problem was, Percy was already married. His wife was a woman named Harriet Westbrook – with whom he had eloped when she was just sixteen and he nineteen – much to the dismay of Percy’s aristocratic family. They subsequently cut him off from his inheritance, although Percy loved to flaunt his wealthy roots and often claimed that large sums of money would eventually be his. Percy and Harriet had one child, and to make matters worse, Harriet was once again pregnant.

Cemetery Trysts and Love Triangles

Nonetheless, Mary and Percy began having secret meetings in – of all great Gothic places — Saint Pancras Cemetery where Mary’s mother was buried!

Percy said he could not hide his “ardent passion” for her. Mary wrote she was attracted to Percy’s “wild, intellectual, unearthly look.”

The two made love for the first time in the cemetery, Mary losing her virginity to Percy.  After that, forget it. Mary was ruined. RUINED, I tell you!!!! A social pariah!! A leper among women!! (I am only being slightly sarcastic here. Remember, in Victorian times, virginity was sacrosanct, an indication of breeding and virtue. No way in hell could Mary get away with this!) Even the so-called liberal thinking and politically radical William Godwin disapproved of their relationship.

The only sensible thing to do was run away. And so, Mary and Percy ran away to France. They took Mary’s step-sister Claire (daughter of her step-mother Mary Jane Clairmont) along with them. According to Percy, this was because Claire was “the only one among them who could speak French.” However, Claire and Percy reportedly had many “excursions” together, and historians believe the two were lovers as well.

Furthermore, older sister Fanny Imlay who was left behind, also expressed having feelings for Percy.  He may have been three-timing the sisters. Of course, Percy’s pregnant wife Harriet also got left behind.

Mary, Claire and Percy traveled together throughout France and Switzerland until, broke and destitute, they could no longer survive. They then returned to England. Mary was pregnant. Mary’s father – apparently growing more traditional by the minute – still disapproved of their relationship and refused to take them in. The baby was born premature and died shortly after. Mary became pregnant again and in 1816 gave birth to a son, named William.

That same year, Mary, Percy, little William and Claire all traveled back to Switzerland. Soon after they were joined by Percy’s friends, the poet Lord Byron and physician John William Polidori. It was a meeting of the minds.

There, in Geneva, the group passed one of the coldest summers ever by telling ghost stories around the fire and challenging each other to write horror. It was one of these challenges that led 18 year old Mary to write her masterpiece Frankenstein.

Mary became pregnant again and gave birth to a daughter – but both children would be dead within two years. In the meantime, Mary completed Frankenstein and had it first published anonymously in 1818.

The couple returned to England in September, 1816.  They settled in Bath with Claire Clairmont – who was now (ironically) pregnant with Lord Byron’s child. Mary then received a letter from her half-sister, Fanny Imlay, who alluded to her unhappy life. The letter was apparently so alarming that, on October 9, Percy took it upon himself to go looking for Fanny, worried about her state of mind. He never found her. On the morning of October 10, Fanny Imlay was found dead in a room at an inn in Swansea, Wales. She left a suicide note and an empty bottle of laudanum.

Fanny was not the only suicide that year.  On December 10, Percy Shelley’s wife, Harriet, was discovered drowned in the Serpentine, a lake in Hyde Park, London. It seems the two women who got left behind decided to leave forever.

Both suicides were hushed up, as suicide in Victorian times was illegal, considered disgraceful, and brought great shame to the families.

Percy, for his part, tried to gain custody of his two children by Harriet. His lawyers told him it would be a good idea for him to take a wife, so he finally married Mary on December 30, 1816 at St Mildred’s Church in London. Although Harriet’s family gained custody of their children, the couple remained in London and attempted their new married life.

It was not long before Percy’s debt collectors came calling. The couple left England again, this time bound for Italy, with Claire and her new born daughter Allegra (the child of Lord Byron) in tow.

In Italy, Mary’s two children developed malaria and died. On November 12, 1819, Mary gave birth to her fourth child, Percy Florence, the only one who would survive to adulthood.  Mary became pregnant again in 1822. She suffered a miscarriage and almost bled to death. Percy, too distraught to call a doctor, put Mary in a tub of ice water to staunch the bleeding. It was later agreed that he had saved his wife’s life.

That same year, Percy Shelly set out on a sailing adventure from which he would never return.

The Heart That Would Not Die

On July 1, 1822, Percy Shelley, Edward Ellerker Williams, and Captain Daniel Roberts sailed south down the coast to Livorno. On July 8, he and Edward Williams set out on the return journey to Lerici — minus the captain — but with an eighteen-year-old boatboy, Charles Vivian. They were detained by a storm and lost at sea. Ten days later, three bodies washed up on the coast near Viareggio, midway between Livorno and Lerici.

Percy Shelley’s body was so mangled it was only identifiable by his clothing and a book of John Keats’ poetry that he had stashed away in his pocket. It was decided that Percy’s body would be cremated on the beach at Viareggio. However, something bizarre happened.

His heart would not burn.

Before we get too carried away with supernatural implications, it is only fair to say that modern-day physicians believe the heart may have calcified due to Percy’s earlier bout with tuberculosis – thus rendering it inflammable.  Whatever the reason, Mary Shelley decided to save and preserve her husband’s heart.

Mary kept the heart as a prized possession, wrapping it a silken shroud. She is said to have carried it with her everywhere.

In 1852, a year after she died, Percy’s heart was found in Mary’s desk. It was wrapped in the pages of one of his last poems, Adonais – a tribute to John Keats.

Interesting aside —  when Rolling Stones musician Brian Jones died in 1969 by drowning in his own swimming pool, it was the poem Adonais that Mick Jagger chose to read at his memorial service.

“Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep
He hath awakened from the dream of life
‘Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance, strike with our spirit’s knife…”

Another interesting aside: Brian Jones died of drowning. Harriet Shelley died of drowning. Percy Shelley died of drowning. Harriet died in a lake in Hyde Park. Brian Jones’ Memorial Service was held in Hyde Park.

See how that works? I suspect Mick saw some significance in this.

The entire poem can be read HERE.

Author Legacy

Although Mary is most remembered for Frankenstein, it was by no means the full extent of her writing career. After the death of Percy, Mary was active as a writer and editor. She wrote the novels The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835), and Falkner (1837). She contributed five volumes of Lives of Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French authors to Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopaedia. She wrote short stories, including sixteen for The Keepsake. She also championed Percy Shelley’s poetry, promoting its publication and quoting it in her writing. By 1837, Percy’s works were well-known and increasingly admired.

Believe it or not, in 1830, financially strapped, Mary sold the copyright for a new edition of Frankenstein for only £60!

In the summer of 1838 Edward Moxon (the publisher of Tennyson and the son-in-law of Charles Lamb) proposed publishing the collected works of Percy Shelley.  Mary was paid £500 to edit the collection, called Poetical Works (1838).

Tragic Endings

Mary Shelley’s last years were blighted by illness. From 1839, she suffered from headaches and bouts of paralysis in parts of her body.  On  February 1, 1851, at Chester Square, she died at the young age of fifty-three from a brain tumor. Her son and daughter in law had her buried at St Peter’s Church in Bournemouth, although Mary’s request was to be buried at Saint Pancras near her mother.  (She obviously had fond memories of the place.)  However, Mary’s daughter in law, Jane Shelley, had decided that by then Saint Pancras was simply “too dreadful” a place to bury her.

On the first anniversary of Mary Shelley’s death, Percy Florence and Jane decided to open Mary’s box-desk. Inside they found locks of her dead children’s hair, a notebook she had shared with Percy Bysshe Shelley, and, of course, the tell-tale heart!

 

 

 

Jesus Christ Superstar, Female Apostles and the 1%

 

Jesus Netherlands

In honor of Good Friday, I am paying tribute to my favorite rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar!  Fresh out of The Netherlands comes this timely and creative interpretation, featuring female Disciples, a very young Jesus and a Roman government which is akin to Wall Street elites.  A lot of effort went into it — careful casting and two years rehearsal.  The play was first performed in 2016 at Candea College in Duiven.  The cast includes Tijmen Steg as Jesus, Don Voogt as Judas and Anne Baars as Mary Magdalene.

In the house of Lazarus, Mary  tries to anoint Jesus with precious oil, only to be reprimanded by Judas Iscariot.  “Woman, your fine ointment, brand new and expensive, could have been saved for the poor. Why has it been wasted? We could have raised maybe, three hundred silver pieces or more.”

Jesus, looking at the big picture and knowing he is not long for this world, answers: “Surely you’re not saying we have the resources to save the poor from their lot? There will be poor always, pathetically struggling; look at the good things you’ve got.”

(For more on Jesus’ anointing see my previous post Lazarus and the Pink Moon)

These very talented performers may come as a bit of a juxtapose and surprise.  I think they are fantastic!  Hope you enjoy it and have a happy Good Friday 🙂

Here, Anne Baars as Magdalene performs the ballad “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”.

Intrigued? Watch the whole opera here: (Running time about 1 hour 30 minutes.)

 

 

Mary’s Manifesto

 

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I never set out to be a feminist icon, yet they made me one. I was an inadvertent example of the movement. At the time, I did not yet realize there even was a movement, although I knew  a woman’s place in society was fundamentally wrong.  I simply tried to acquire some freedom for myself. I wanted independence, my own income and a life where I would not be solely defined as ‘wife’.

On the downside, I was also an uptight thirty-something Minneapolis transplant, on the rebound from a failed relationship and one step away from doormat-ism. But to call me a representative of 2nd wave feminism? That was hardly accurate.

Take my first day at work. Sure, I became an associate producer at WJM News. It was a fancy title, yet my pay was ten dollars less than the lowly secretaries. When my boss, Mr. Lou Grant interviewed me, the first thing he asked was my religion. The second thing was my marital status. When I informed him that I was Presbyterian and single, he asked why. Why I was single that is.  I should have automatically  said “Nunya bizness bitch!” (It was, after all, an illegal question.)  But no. I stammered, clasped my hands and choosing my words very carefully, I began to explain to this total stranger, who was in a position of vast authority over me, that there were a multitude of nuanced reasons as to  why one was ‘still single’ at the ripe old age of thirty.

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Mr. Grant was not interested in my explanation, which made me wonder why he had asked in the first place.

That very same night a drunken Mr. Grant showed up at my apartment. He told me, among other things, that I had a ‘great caboose’. He was lonely and his wife was out of town.

In the meantime, my ex-fiancé (who had been persuaded by my landlady to come rescue me) also showed up at my door with flowers. My ex was a doctor and he proceeded to inform me he had stolen the flowers from a very sick patient.

There I stood, a resistant sex object, not even worthy of receiving store bought flowers. See what I mean about doormat-ism?

I sent my ex fiancé packing. Mr. Grant typed a letter to his wife, then staggered out to mail it. I was relieved to be rid of them. The next day at work I was given a stack of pencils to sharpen. My pseudo-feminist career had begun.

The good thing was I realized then I could take care of myself. Every woman needs to realize she is able to take care of herself.

Up till my last day in the newsroom I could never get past calling my boss ‘Mister Grant’ although everyone else called him ‘Lou’. Even my best friend Rhoda, a fast talking New Yorker, would saunter in his office and boldly call him ‘Lou’.

My self assertion was wrought with shortcomings. I was no Betty Friedan. Gloria Steinem hated me.

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As for the traditionalists, they didn’t like me either. I heard Phyllis Schlaftly was appalled because I often stayed out all night with my dates. ( Oh yes, I did have dates! A plethora of men called on me. I had no intention of marrying any of them.)  This type of thing was a real no-no for a nice Midwestern girl in 1972.  I remained polite.  Never once did I speak of my sexual escapades. After all, those who DO, do not speak, and those who SPEAK, do not DO. Yet I was a sexually liberated woman. A ring never crossed my finger.

So you see, on the spectrum of feminism I really fit right in the middle. People loved me for it. My ratings soared.

In years to come the women’s movement would explode. Every issue would be tackled, from reproductive rights to equal pay to single filing income tax to home ownership. (Even Miranda of Sex and the City was expected to have a husband or father sign off as joint owner of her condo!)

Gender roles would be questioned. Non-traditional family structures would be accepted. Single motherhood and ‘childless by choice’ became (almost) okay.  Young women became more and more vocal in their demands.   And precisely at the time when they were given almost everything they wanted — young women would demand more. They took to the streets wearing pussy-cat ears and Styrofoam genitalia. ( I could not join them. It was simply not my style.)

Rhoda got married and then divorced. The newsroom closed in 1977. As far as Mr. Grant’s behavior, nowadays he would be sued. Ironically, I would not have wanted to sue him. He was, believe it or not, a good boss.

In re-runs I remain America’s sweetheart.

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One of the best parts of my show was of course its theme song! Who knew this catchy little number would inspire the likes of Husker Du and Joan Jett?

I, Mary Richards am now permanently signing off, but I will leave you with this final statement:

Friday the 13th and the Divine Feminine

 

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It is a day shrouded in superstition and fear. Supposedly it is the most unlucky day of the year.  It created a cottage industry of movie franchises, which I’d say was pretty lucky for Jason, Freddie Kruegar and certain Hollywood moguls…

Nonetheless, many people have a specific fear of this day. So many, in fact, that apparently we now have a medical term for the phobia known as ‘fear of Friday the 13th’. That term is known as ‘paraskevidekatriaphobia’.  (I can’t pronounce it either.)  This term was apparently coined by one Dr. Donald Dossey, a phobia specialist.  According to Dr. Dossey, paraskevidekatriaphobia is the most widespread superstition in the United States today. Some people refuse to go to work on Friday the 13th; some won’t dine in restaurants and many wouldn’t dare have a wedding on this date.  My my my.  But it wasn’t always like this.

In many pre Christian and goddess worshipping cultures, Friday and the number 13 were not so bad.   In fact, they were actually very lucky 🙂

To the ancient Egyptians, for example, the number 13 symbolized the joyous afterlife. They thought of this physical life as a quest for spiritual ascension which unfolded in twelve stages, leading to a thirteenth which extended beyond the grave.  (This explains why they had such elaborate burial and embalming rituals.)

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The number 13 therefore did not symbolize death in a morbid way,  but rather as a glorious and desirable transformation.  Interestingly, the 13th card in the Tarot deck is Death, which often represents not a physical death but a transformation, a chance for change or an opportunity  to release what no longer serves us.

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When Egyptian civilization perished, the symbolism of the number 13 was, unfortunately,  corrupted by subsequent cultures. Thirteen became associated with a fear of death rather than a reverence for the afterlife.

The number 13  has a unique association with the Divine Feminine. Thirteen is said to have been revered in prehistoric goddess-worshiping cultures because it corresponded to the number of lunar (menstrual) cycles in a year (13 x 28 = 364 days). The ‘Earth Mother of Laussel’ is a 27,000-year-old carving  that was found near the Lascaux caves in France. She is an icon of matriarchal spirituality. The Earth Mother holds a crescent-shaped horn bearing 13 notches.

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Primitive women kept track of time by the passing of their menstrual cycles and the phases of the moon, as well as the change of seasons and the wheel of the year.  However, as the solar calendar, with its 12 months, triumphed over the 13 month lunar calendar,  so did the ‘perfect’ number 12 over the ‘imperfect’ number 13. (But note that they really had to discombobulate those 12 months, giving some of them 30 days, some 31 and poor old February with 28, to make the 364 days…) Twelve became the sacred number after that, with, for example, 12 hours of the clock, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Apostles of Jesus and 12 signs of the zodiac.  Thirteen became unpredictable, chaotic, untrustworthy and evil.

Friday (the Sixth Day) also offers a unique connection with the Divine Feminine. The name ‘Friday’ was derived from the Norse goddess Freya (or Frigg) who was worshiped on the Sixth Day. She is a goddess of marriage, sex and fertility.

Freya/ Frigg corresponds to Venus, the goddess of love of the Romans, who named the sixth day of the week in her honor “dies Veneris.” Friday was considered to be a lucky day by Norse and Teutonic peoples — especially as a day to get married — because of its traditional association with love and fertility.

As the Christian church gained momentum in the Middle Ages, pagan associations with Friday were not forgotten.  Therefore the Church went to great lengths to  disassociate itself with Friday and thirteen.   If Friday was a holy day for heathens, the Church fathers felt, it must not be so for Christians — thus it became known in the Middle Ages as the ‘Witches’ Sabbath’.   Friday became a big deal in the Bible. It was on a Friday, supposedly, that Eve tempted Adam with the apple, thus banishing mankind from Paradise. The Great Flood began on a Friday. The Temple of Solomon was destroyed on a Friday. Christ was crucified on a Friday, PLUS, there were 13 attendees at the last supper, the most infamous of course being the betrayer, Judas Iscariot.

Interestingly the sacred animal of the Goddess Freya is the cat (probably a black one) which also became associated with evil as Christianity began to encompass the Western world.  Freya then became known as (you guessed it!) an evil witch, and her cats were evil as well.

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Various legends developed around Freya, but one is particularly pertinent to this post.  As the story goes, the witches of the North would observe their sabbat by gathering in the woods by the light of the moon. On one such occasion the Friday goddess, Freya herself, came down from her sanctuary in the mountaintops and appeared before the group.

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The witches numbered only 12 at the time. Freya joined the circle, making the number 13, after which the witches’ coven — and every properly-formed coven since then — comprised exactly 13.

So, on this Friday the 13th embrace the luck and grace of the Goddess Freya! Pet your cats, engage in some moon-gazing, celebrate love and fertility with your significant other.  Rest assured, the Divine Feminine is with you and there is nothing to fear 🙂

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