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‘Mary’s Monster’ latest Judge creation


Wednesday, March 07, 2018

So, did you ever wonder what would happen if a famous children’s book author/illustrator woke up one morning and said, “I think I will do something different”? In the case of one local author/illustrator the result is a fantastic, exciting, exquisite new genre. If I sound as if I am gushing – I am. Rarely do I get this excited about a new book. Consequently, I ask your indulgence as I gush some more.

Lita Judge, an award-winning author/illustrator of some of the most delightful children’s books ever published has branched out into a new field with “Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein.” Her story is a graphic biography. That means the illustrations on every page are equally weighted in words. This is really a dramatic departure from the traditional graphic novel in that the balance between the haunting black, white, and gray illustrations is not only significant, but the layers of meaning exemplified by these illustrations play perfectly against the narration which has been taken from Mary’s own diaries, along with the writings of her family and friends.

Judge introduces her book with the words from Mary’s monster – Frankenstein. Yes, he is more than a “monster,” he is the representation of the ills of the world – frequently precipitated by men who have abused and suppressed women for generations. This is the feminist aspect of the book that cannot be overlooked because of Mary’s suffering with starting life without a mother and ending with the loss of two of her own daughters. Who is this Mary?

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is the daughter of the feminist movement’s first mother Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary Wollstonecraft, as we know, was an English writer, philosopher, and advocate of women’s rights, who married William Godwin - also an advocate for gender equality and social reform. Wollstonecraft died giving birth to Mary, and sadly, although young Mary grew up believing in the equality of women and expecting the accompanying freedoms, once she fell in love with the famous poet Percy Bysshe Shelley all that changed. Shelley, a married man, was a rich, emotionally immature, and mentally unstable womanizer. Mary didn’t care. She fell in love and they ran away to Switzerland. The story continues from there. Would Mary’s story be different if her mother had lived? Most likely. But, instead one heartbreak after another befalls Mary. Her birth caused her mother’s death, her love for Shelley, who was not a pillar of manhood, caused Mary to endure shame, rejection, and actual abuse, and two of their daughters died in infancy. She was haunted by death all of her life.

Judge’s illustrations show this to perfection, haunting me well after I finished the book. Judge also wrote beautifully of Mary’s driving forces - which were two-fold. First, she loved Shelley wholeheartedly, who in spite of his reckless womanizing behavior nonetheless did support her writing in an era when women were rejected as writers by publishers and readers alike. Second, her “monster” Frankenstein was a story that needed to be written. Why? Because two hundred years ago, in 1818, among other things, scientists were experimenting with the use of electricity to animate life. These men somehow thought that the creation of life could be taken over by science. Those “experts” pushing the envelope of creation of life while at the same time disregarding how what they did would impact society, were playing God. They wanted ultimate power, and the few that achieved it did so by reigning tyranny over the rest. Mary saw how wrong this was and her “monster” was the representation of science’s ultimate power gone horribly wrong, as well as society’s inequality creating “monsters” at every juncture.

The “monster” has many faces in Judge’s work. He does represent the wickedness of man, the haunting deaths that stalked Mary throughout her life, and evils of a society that created such unevenness among people that there was little wonder revolutions were percolating under the surface. There are other faces of Mary’s “monster” as well, and I suspect each reader will find more.

Originally Mary had to publish “Frankenstein” under “Anonymous” because of the fear of rejection by the public who, at the time, did not accept women authors. Yet, for all his faults, Shelley made sure the world knew that Mary was the author of the book. Naturally, she received no remuneration for her work due to a lack of copyright laws at the time. But, the “monster” lives on and the story is just as relevant today as it was 200 years ago. Heed this story well, we are again in perilous times my dear readers.

Read Judge’s beautiful narrations in these very compelling passages, carefully examine her illustrations, and think long and hard about Mary’s story. There is not one detail in this book that has been overlooked - nothing is random. Rather, this book is so well designed, plotted, and organized that I am predicting it will serve as an example for other authors to strive toward if they choose to follow suite and try to expand this new genre. Judge, however, has set the bar very high – so I will be interested to see of anyone else can match her achievement.