Archive for October 29th, 2008

Frankenstein, Great Expectations, and Polygon

October 29, 2008

What’s the connection? Mary Shelley (born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin) wrote Frankenstein; or, The Modern Promethius when she was a teenager, in 1818. The original Dr. Frankenstein’s monster didn’t look like the guy to the left: in the 3rd edition of the book (published in 1831) he looked like this:

So what does this have to do with Polygon? Well, Mary Shelley was born in The Polygon! The Polygon was here:

Some sites indicated that The Polygon was the name of the actual house, but after surfing the net when I really should have been grading doing some research I’m pretty sure that The Polygon was that immediate neighborhood, not one single building.

For example, in a book (Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman) that her dad (William Godwin) wrote about her mom (Mary Wollstonecraft, who died 11 days after Mary was born), The Poygon is mentioned twice:

It is perhaps scarcely necessary to mention, that, influenced by the ideas I had long entertained upon the subject of cohabitation, I engaged an apartment, about twenty doors from our house in the Polygon, Somers Town, which I designed for the purpose of my study and literary occupations. Trifles however will be interesting to some readers, when they relate to the last period of the life of such a person as Mary. I will add therefore, that we were both of us of opinion, that it was possible for two persons to be too uniformly in each other’s society. Influenced by that opinion, it was my practice to repair to the apartment I have mentioned as soon as I rose, and frequently not to make my appearance in the Polygon, till the hour of dinner.

In digging around some more, I discovered someone else who lived in The Polygon: Charles Dickens! He wasn’t born there, but moved to 17 The Polygon, Somers Town in 1827 (more than a decade after Mary had left) at the tender age of seven when his family was evicted from their previous abode. [He only lived there about a year before moving.]

Finally, The Keeper of All that is Good and True says, “In 1784, the first housing was built at the “Polygon”, now the site of a council block of flats called “Oakshot Court”.” So I’m convinced that The Polygon is that neighborhood, maybe the plaza (which would likely be in the shape of a polygon). And the word Polygon is mathy, and Frankenstein is a pretty Halloweeny book, and Charles Dickens has some scary stuff it it (not monster-scary, but those debtors’ prisons don’t sound like much fun), so it all seems to fit the season.