Why Frankenstein is really about love

14/06/2016 at 12:22 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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This article has also been published in The Huffington Post. 

RothwellMaryShelley

In June 1816, 200 years ago this week, Mary Godwin was holidaying with friends in Switzerland. She was just 18 years old. Among the group was the poet Percy Shelley, her partner, who would later become her husband. Driven indoors by relentless rain, the group decided they would each write a horror story.

At first, Mary struggled to find a plot. Then, a few nights later, she had a waking dream: a scientist created a fearsome man from corpse remains.

Her nightmarish vision was fuelled by the scientific interests of the day, and also by a personal tragedy. The year before, Mary had given birth prematurely. The father, Percy Shelley, had been repelled and rejecting of both baby and mother. After their fragile infant daughter died, Mary was lost in grief and haunted by visions of the baby.

That grief put the most amazing energy into her novel, Frankenstein. The flawed protagonist, Dr Victor Frankenstein, is filled with love and hope initially. His dream is to create a beautiful new human being. But the moment the Creature opens his eyes, Victor Frankenstein is utterly repulsed and abandons his creation. He doesn’t even name him. In turn, the Creature himself expects to love his creator. When he is rejected, that powerful capacity for love becomes an equally powerful drive towards hatred and destruction.

Frankenstein was published two years after Mary Godwin’s waking dream, to mixed reviews. However, it could not be forgotten: within five years it had become a stage production, full of thrills and horror. Dr Frankenstein’s monster has stalked our imaginations ever since.

Last month, Liam Scarlett’s ballet at the Royal Opera House produced the latest batch of mixed reviews. My friends Caroline and Katharina went to the live streaming. They were profoundly moved and gripped by the performance. “But the audience around us appeared unmoved,” said Caroline later. “I even heard one person say that it wasn’t scary enough.”

So here’s the question: what is the real meaning of Frankenstein? Opinion is and always has been divided… where does the truth lie?

The answer, I believe, lies in three interrelated insights.

1) It’s a mirror to our inner monster

When pioneering psychologist Carl Jung introduced Europe to its own collective unconscious, a century after Frankenstein was written, the explanation seemed clear: the monstrous Creature is a representation of our own shadow selves. Those aspects of our behaviour that are not approved by our society lie buried, deep in the psyche: a dark, hidden force that lurks just below the levels of our consciousness. It influences our behaviour, acting as a saboteur that we cannot control. This is the monster that we each create for ourselves.

The more uncomfortable we are about our shadow self, the more we will disown it. We will project it onto another, or others, whom we will demonise. Those of us who are in in that category expect Victor Frankenstein’s Creature to be supremely frightening and repellent. However, if we are at ease with our shadow selves, we will not see it as monstrous. We will see it entirely differently. I believe this is a major reason for all the mixed reviews. Frankenstein pushes our buttons.

2) It’s a plea for heart and mind to be in balance

Mary Godwin married Percy Shelley, but he died in a sailing accident when she was 24. Mary was now a single mother, with a young son. She made her living as a writer of novels, travel books and short stories. Within her works there is a golden thread that celebrates heart, hearth and family. She was certain that the enquiring mind needed to be balanced by heart-wisdom. In the original text of Frankenstein, she wrote:

“If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind.”

3) It’s a manifesto for love and forgiveness

Mary Shelley, as she became known, understood completely the value of a loving interpretation. And so, in 2016, does choreographer Liam Scarlett.

Dr Victor Frankenstein was misguided to create his monster from corpse parts. But having made the mistake, he could have treated the Creature with compassion and transformed him with love. At the same time, he could have forgiven himself.

This kinder interpretation matters in ways we can’t fully fathom. The truth is, there are dark, untended areas equally in our own psyches and in the wider world. We may be tempted to hide away from these places. But the better solution is to give them tender loving care: to feed them with love, tears and compassion.

In nightmares, when we become aware that we are running away from a monster, the most powerful action is to turn around, and face the monster with love. We can even, perhaps, hug the monster. In dreams, the monster then becomes transformed. Our changed behaviour changes it, for the better.

I think that’s why my friends Caroline and Katharina were moved by the Royal Opera House production of Frankenstein. They saw that it contains an immense, compassionate invitation to love.

So the real meaning of Frankenstein is not horror. The real meaning is love. And that is healing for us all.

Love or logic: you choose

24/09/2011 at 10:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Joan thought she knew where she was going… do you?

One of my all-time favourite movies is I Know Where I’m Going, starring Wendy Hiller and Roger Livesey. This 1945 black and white romance is drenched with subdued passion and iron determination, against the turbulent backdrop of the Western Isles of Scotland.

In the movie, Hiller plays Joan Webster, an ambitious young woman who is set to marry Sir Robert Bellinger, a wealthy, older business man. She travels up to the Scottish Isles for her wedding. But stormy weather prevents Joan from taking the boat to the island of Killoran, where her future husband, who is playing laird, awaits her.

While the wind rages outside, Joan is thrown together with dashing naval officer Torquil McNeil, who turns out to be the authentic, cash-strapped laird of Killoran.

We’ve all faced the dilemma between head and heart.

Joan has decided her future – she’s going to marry for money… but her heart is beginning to tell her otherwise. And this dilemma within Joan is where much of the film’s timeless appeal lies.

The thing is, we can all be a bit like Joan Webster. We know where we are going, don’t we? We make plans, based on practical considerations rather than heartfelt ones. Maybe, for example, we trained for a particular career, because there were supposedly better job prospects, even though deep down we knew we’d prefer a completely different career path.

Maybe we chose the house we didn’t love, or even the partner we didn’t have a passion for, because we decided to be sensible.

A life-time of small compromises based on the head ruling the heart can even lead, eventually, to chronic ill-health, breakdown, or crisis.

Head-based decisions are based on fear

It’s wise to use logic as a back-up tool to predict what would happen if we followed our heart, and to make some adjustments where necessary. We nevertheless have to take notice of what our innermost feelings are telling us, because they are our most authentic guide. If we don’t, the universe has a great way of getting us back on track. It will start with small obstacles…  then bigger and bigger ones, until we become aware, and change our course. Joan Webster was so determined not to listen to her feelings, it took a giant storm to stop her from making a giant mistake.

Heart-based decisions are based on love

Heart-based decisions are so easy to spot. They’re the decisions that make you happy. They’re the ones that feel right.

Heart-based decisions are not to be confused with infatuation. Infatuation has a totally different vibration. If you find it hard to tell the difference between infatuation and love, try the following easy intuitive exercise. Make it a standard tool in your intuition toolbox.

You can use this technique specifically to check out the nature of your relationship with another person.

Intuition exercise to spot authentic love

Sit quietly, without disturbance. Take a few deep and even breaths. Feel your thoughts settling down; let them go.

Now picture the other person in your mind’s eye. See them in detail. Just observe them, without making any judgements or comments.

Now, picture or sense a cord connecting the two of you. The cord goes into each person’s solar plexus, just beneath the rib cage.

Now, simply observe, or sense, the cord in more detail. What colour is it? What texture? How does it feel? Is it in glowing, good condition, or looking tired and frayed? Is it a pleasant colour, or an unpleasant one? What is your overall impression of the cord: healthy, or unhealthy?

A healthy cord clearly signifies a healthy, authentic relationship. An unhealthy cord tell you the relationship either needs work, or has no future. To find out which, you will need to do further intuitive work.

See what happens if you try to clean up the cord. Now pour unconditional love into the cord… Is the cord improving in its condition, or is it not?

Regular meditation for 15 or 20 minutes daily will help to quieten the mind enough to help you to see and sense such energies more clearly. And revisiting this exercise can show the cord making improvements over time.

Finally, we listen

In I Know Where I’m Going, Joan Webster finally starts listening to her heart. When she does so, the storm vanishes, and she is filled with a new energy – she knows exactly what to do next.

When we follow our heart, we too find life around us becomes less bumpy. We experience an increase in joy and synchronicity. We feel more authentically ourselves. We are back on track.

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