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“The Invocation of Mary Shelley”

I contemplated the lake: tempted to swim, I stood on the shore in pitchy moonlight, a cascade of shadows in shapes of trees that tricked the eye into seeing some gigantic being, a monster from my past. To escape that memory of hell, I dropped my cloak, and retreating like an innocent-accused into her prison cell, I plunged into the calm, cool water. Whispering a poem as though it were prayer, it seemed that a fallen angel was quick to answer me. Bright flashes of lightning suddenly revealed clouds previously invisible in a black sky; the quiet storm illuminated the lake for several minutes until a dark, lacy veil descended like the faint sketches of an artist, crossing out first lines and drawing a new design, a pentimento of seasons. Summer rains had ceased; the cold miserable fall torrents replaced them, and my placid heart became agitated and weary. Wind licked waves and levitated them from their usual occupation. To my horror, a few curled into dorsal fins, a beast of prey in a troubled sea; I swam away, and slunk ashore, breathless with the thrill, and afraid.

Thunder erupted. Exhilarated, I pulled my shawl around my shoulders and watched the storm bestow a sublime, terrific power. Was I the only thing that beheld this beautiful scene? The frogs, I imagined, long had buried themselves with the worms in the earth. A loon wailed like a banshee. Once my eye recovered from the repeated flashes of lightning, I again retraced my path to the cottage where I took refuge in the most perfect solitude. Upon that vindication I sought from the judge, who bore witness to the depraved deeds of that dæmon, I passed whole days on the lake, often alone, or with a friend, listening to the loons, writing letters and allowing nature to restore me. On many an afternoon, I have seen this lake writhe and turn with the heart of a tempest, reflecting in some manner, the true passions of my nature, the fury and fears of a woman, whose airy singular voice, overwhelmed by danger, could not conquer violence, nor any nightmare, amid the crash and hollow cries of the nightly winds through tall pines.

It was a dreary day in November, many years later, when I tore up the papers that beheld his handwriting—that wretch who loomed like a hangman behind my back, transforming every staircase into a scaffold. I’d discovered the papers in a basket, and accordingly destroyed them, and placed them in the woodstove. I assembled some small branches and built a fire in the stove, watching the flames consume the haunted remnants of that evil spirit. Let those be the last words that fixed my fate to ruin. Here, in this bright cottage in a vale, I became my own protectress. This little wood became my hiding-place. In a nearby land preserve, I walked with my dog in meadows full of white flowers, alive with butterflies and wildness, that radiant sister to innocence. I became an advocate for Nature. It may seem a trifling service, lest I accomplish any small thing to prove myself worthy, at least I will be kind to my fellow creatures, and delight in every fortunate chance to row my little boat upon that lovely lake, or to swim in those glistening afternoons. To its powers of restoration, I owe my happiness. In spring, the ice melts, and a cool mist rises from the lake and flits about the forest; the sun sparkles on the lake, flickering through bare trees, allowing a glimpse of the water from my kitchen window. By late May, rains drench a lush green canopy. It bursts into birdsong. The woods become a fairy-land—rich in berries and nuts for the sparrow, wood frog and deer. -LCS

At the lake

In the flash fiction experiment above, I was drawn to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s sublime imagery in her 1818 novel, Frankenstein, and her metaphor of the lake. When her hero/protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, rows across the lake, he sees his beautiful native land of Geneva, and he’s filled with a sense of relief–until he suddenly sees the gigantic creature, climbing a mountain in the distance, and Victor is again consumed by conflicted feelings of guilt, horror, fear, regret, and self-loathing. The lake seems to reflect his best and worst feelings about himself. I borrowed the lines, “I contemplated the lake,” “I took refuge in the most perfect solitude,” and “I passed whole days on the lake,” directly from Shelley’s novel, and kept those particular lines in mind as I wrote this flash fiction piece about a time, a dozen or so years ago, when I took refuge on a lake in Maine. There was in fact a “monster” of sorts, but not the kind that Victor reanimates in his apartment.  The rest of my flash fiction piece is my own writing although I did experiment with a writing style that aspires to invoke the spirit of Mary Shelley, and a bit of her mother, too, Mary Wollstonecraft, especially in the line, “I became my own protectress,” even though neither Wollstonecraft nor Shelley ever penned that line. Both advocated for the idea of women becoming a “protectress” rather than looking to a man to fulfill that role. (See Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792)

Water is a strong element in Mary Shelley’s writing; she seems to use the water element–whether mist, ice, snow, rain, lakes and the river–to convey human emotion. The type of water she uses and the condition of the weather seems to match the emotional condition of her characters.

Leah

Poet. Artist. Ecoheroine. Human ecologist. Spiritual mermaid and Mystic. I write about literary ecology, wetlands, water, Romantic ecology, and quirky adventures with my dog.

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