by Boots Hart, CAP

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mary Shelley: A Woman and Her Frankenstein Monster

Born in England on August 30, 1797, the child named Mary Wollstonecraft Goodwin would grow up to be the author of one of the most famous stories in all of modern media fiction. Having by that time married to romanticist poet Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley comes to us as the author of Frankenstein.

 Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster - the above is a promo
photograph from the movie Bride of Frankenstein

Actually...that wasn't the title as first envisioned by the author. When Mary wrote the original story, she entitled it Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus.

It's an interesting reference, considering who the mythic Prometheus is and how like any writer, Mary Shelley's inspirations drew at least partly - if not greatly from her life.

Part of the basic Greek creation story, Prometheus is a Titan - a primal entity who helped form the world we know. In particular, he's a champion of mankind. As life and humans come into being everything is literally cold and raw on Earth - mankind has not yet acquired fire.

Prometheus steals fire for mankind, and for this is sentenced to be forever bound in chains and left exposed at the 'end of the world' where each day a giant eagle would come and feast on his liver.

  Prometheus Bound by Scott Eaton (c. 1996)

Like all mega Greek myths, there's a whole lot more to Prometheus. But that Prometheus gives the 'spark' of fire (metaphorically: light/knowledge/free will) to mankind is the crux of the Prometheus tale.

In the story Frankenstein (no matter how you parse the title), the creator of the monster is Frankenstein. And when he brings his monster to life, he's attempting to be a modern-day Prometheus. Sin? No sin? Just because we can do something, should we? It's a question still being debated. And probably for good reason.

As for the story of her life, Mary's was a dramatic one, beginning with the death of her mother when Mary was just eleven days old.

 Mary Shelley - natal chart (August 30, 1797) 

Going to the date recorded for this event, the transits to Mary's natal chart are Mars conjunct Sun, Sun square the Nodes, and Sun opposition Sedna, with the Nodes having squared her natal Sedna a couple of days prior. 

The numerical link here is Mary's Nodes and Sedna being both numerically at 18 of respective signs. But that the Sun would 'set off' Nodes and Sedna as the transiting Nodes (which linger in a degree often for a week or more at a time) squares Sedna - that's the classic example of what astrologers call a "trigger transit" where the Sun (life) is acting as a trigger to "fire off" the effects of the larger, 'more major' transit. 

The key here is understanding Sedna as symbolizing the struggle between immature needs to be taken care of (or parented) and the Nodes as how we intersect in our life. Mars/Sun is almost a sidebar, though that this conjunction occurs in the 4th house of family is apt. And there is that the Sun symbolizes not just life or will but men in general: obviously with his wife gone, Mary's dad had to take over parenting.

The combination however, suggests that without her mother (dad didn't remarry for a few years) Mary was both more dependent on men and forced to be independent of them. Or indeed anyone, as her life suggests in the long run.

It's an interesting contribution to our learning about Sedna, a point only discovered in 2004. We know a lot from the myth, but refining our understanding of Sedna through its function in many a chart is ongoing work. Mary's dad remarries when Mary is four, the effects of which are interestingly visible when we set up a solar return bi-wheel:

Inner chart: Mary's natal chart
Outer wheel: Mary's solar return for when she turned four
With a bi-wheel, what we look to do is compare positions. And here we see the (in yellow - outer ring) Moon at 17 Gemini very much conjunct her natal North Node at 18 Gemini (in black - inner ring).

This is a point of interest to us starting with the idea of what Gemini is and represents. On a  personal and/or psychological level Gemini often means 'from many things we choose one or many' (choice or prioritizing). Against this we have the mundane Gemini of everyday life: the 'more than one' or 'many,' which is apt in this sense as when coupled with the Moon (women) is very much a picture of Mary getting a 'second mother.' 

The woman her father married was also named Mary (obviously no one was taking pity on future biographers) ...Mary Jane Clairmont. Apparently she was the neighbor - another interesting Gemini quotient, since Gemini represents 'things local or within daily reach.'

So dad reached out and married the neighbor and we see it represented in the solar chart as Moon (woman) in Gemini (local to me) conjunct the societal Nodes (marriage as a socially/societally endorsed institution).

In 1814 at the tender age of 16 (on her way to being 17, obviously) Mary began a romance with one of her political father's political followers - one Percy Shelley.

Yes, that Shelley - the famous romantic poet...

Percy Bysshe Shelley

...the fly in the ointment here being that Shelley was already married. In fact, his wife was expecting at the time Mary and Percy met. Nevertheless, the couple eloped on July 28, 1814 amidst the emotional upheaval of eclipses and a shower of transits on Mary's chart suggesting that on one hand she was desperate to escape where she was and get on with "her" life (that independence thing) with an inner sense of 'is this right?' and a little Mercury station at 23 Leo taking place on the 27th atop her natal Hybris ('can I get away with it?').

The combination marks this as a truly fateful moment, one she probably struggled with as over the next couple of years she and Percy struggled not just with debt or criticism, but also with the death of a prematurely-born daughter - oh, echoes of Mary's childhood!

And maybe it is here that we see how Mary's life really works: as she and Percy spent a summer in Switzerland during the latter days of Mary's 18th year she conceived the story which would become that we know as Frankenstein.

 A handwritten page of 'Frankenstein' in first draft

This brings us to recalling that the cycle of the lunar nodes (aka the Nodes of the Moon) is 18.6 years long. Remembering that the Nodes are all about Things Social, Societal and Worldly...and that Mary's life was marked from the first by that Node-square-Sedna transit barely after she was born it seems telling that as Mary passes this 18.6 year mark she and Percy take off for the Alps amidst pressure from creditors, scorn about  their relationship and the death of a prematurely-born child.

And there she writes a story about giving life to a monster.

Not that things stopped there; it was a particularly fortuitous if gruesome year. As December is half way along comes news of a suicide. Percy's wife has drowned herself in Hyde Park's famous Serpentine, a body of water which while substantial (28 acres is its current recorded size) is not all that deep - 40 feet maximum.

But apparently that was deep enough.

The death is marked by one global transit - Sedna going direct: internal needs in forward motion or coming to the fore. Added to this is North Node (worldly/societal/social doings) in an effortless trine to Mary's natal Chiron - the need to act in order to heal one's life. So obviously the wife committing suicide was to Mary maybe painful as an event, but also something which cleared the way for her to heal her own pain.

And this Mary did: she and Percy were married on December 30, 1816 with a Jupiter square Mars recalling her early days (mom's death at Mars conjunct Sun) but with Jupiter here strongly poised in Sagittarius (it's primary sign of rulership) if in a bad position (the 6th house) conjunct asteroid Hel, TNO Typhon and opposition Scheherazade.

It's an interesting picture, this...Scheherazade is the telling tales to save your own life and clearly Jupiter's opposition at the marriage speaks to what she probably felt "should" have been a happy ending - a feeling free at last. 

But no. Typhon being both one's most primal, primitive urges and as a TNO something which 'comes upon you' like an erupting volcano, especially conjunct Hel (bad choices) we get a picture of not all being well. Square to Mars in the natal 4th, this may simply have been Mary hating that her wedding was tainted by the first wife's suicide. For all we know she caught 'Hel' from her father. Or maybe she or Percy had own issues with the marriage coming a scant two weeks after the suicide. 

Then of course there are all those noodling thoughts one might have if they were writing a modern TV drama. Did Mary or Percy in any way 'influence' said suicide? 

The solar return going into Mary's 19th year is quite evocative on everything taking place, especially seeing as she would have been in the middle of drafting the still famous Frankenstein...

Mary Shelley - Solar Return 1816

That's a particularly trying Grand Cross - and Grand Crosses are simply never a picnic. As above, the picture is that of a square, the corners of which are in oppositions and squares to each other. What one might try to lightheartedly refer to as 'a cross we are forced to bear' (or confront) generally ends up being an endless set of choices. Or demands from every quadrant, all of which cannot be met without upsetting some other applecart, schedule or personal aim, relationship or need.

This one is either made even more problematic or partially resolved by two of the corners of the cross being intercepted. Interceptions either function 'internal fantasies' (dreams, hopes, escapist designs) or the willingness to subjugate yourself to service. And either way, they're dicey.

But in this situation, what we may well be looking at is a positive. At least to us, if not to Mary. With the present/past tense injury/need to heal (Chiron) in emotional, fantastical Pisces in opposition with Venus (creation), Mercury (thought/ideas/activity) and Mars (motivation, impetus) in work-oriented Virgo, she may well have needed to 'do something!' constructive. And thus what we may well have here is a picture of Mary investing time and effort in that which on the world stage (worldly Nodes across the 'I reach out to others' Asc/Dsc) is unquestionably her lasting authoring masterpiece: Frankenstein.

Not that she had yet survived her the early marking of her chart. Again, the natal...


There are two dwarf planets very high in this chart: Pluto (transformation, life/death) and Sedna. Pluto stands in opposition to Mary's badly place Virgo Mars in the house of family and Sedna is technically in Ptolemaic aspect only to the Nodes. With Neptune in a physical degree in the house of children in a tight trine to Saturn (also in a physical degree) poorly placed by sign and house in the 1st, we should not be surprised that while in Italy, Mary's second child also died.

Were it today in fact, we might suspect a physical problem with pregnancy. Or maybe some sort of 'substance use/abuse' - Saturn-Neptune contacts being famous for such.

Looking at this chart it seems possible that Mary Shelley might have even had sort of chronic depression which led to Munchhausen by Proxy Syndrome (a psychological setup which compels the parent to harm the child) either for attention (Munchhausen's) or perhaps because her child psyche never survived the death of her own mother. Not having yet grown into a sense of perspective, children often  internalize things which 'go bad' in early life as having been 'their fault.' So in those days of minimal pre/post natal care, could having her mother die so soon after giving birth have imprinted Mary with mom's death being her fault? And does this make her "the monster"?

Richard Rothwell's portrait of Mary Shelley

Fortunately, her third child survived. But Mary had not yet escaped tragedy. On July 8, 1822 - in what seems like an eerie echo of agony past, Percy dies when out sailing. This occurring before Mary's birthday on August 30th, we look at the solar return for 1821 for this event to be imaged. Here is that chart in a bi-wheel.

Again, the inner chart is Mary's natal chart, the outer ring is her solar return for 1821...

Inner wheel: Mary's natal chart
Outer wheel: Mary's solar return chart for 1821

The outer ring Neptune at 0 Capricorn sitting directly under the Descendant - one's binding agreements with others and traditionally, the house of marriage as a bond between two people - shows her union with Percy being rather literally 'dissolved.' That the mythic Neptune is ruler of the oceans? Totally apt. That Capricorn is ruled by that Saturn we just described as being unhappily and poorly placed in the first is the sign of her continuing sorrow.

It's also probably the signature of her death. Mary Shelly died at the age of 53 from a brain tumor. Saturn is all about limits, walls and metaphorically the 'hardening' which happens in us literally (cysts, arthritis, tumors) associated with our ceasing to grow.

And yet she left us that one disturbingly wonderful story which in asking us to suspend our belief of what's possible, allows us to all grow a little more...and maybe deal with our own monsters.

Mary Shelley: August 30, 1797 - February 1, 1851
(a miniature by Reginald Easton said to have been taken from her death mask.) 


1 comment:

  1. There is so much to think about in this post - Frankenstein being one of my favorite novels. I do love the Scheherazade connection. And that Grand Cross chart is shockingly striking!