Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Monster, the writer and the lack of blue plaques

Hollywood 1930 and there’s this guy, Boris Karloff,
and he’s playing a monster - Frankenstein’s monster.
Only Boris Karloff isn’t his real name.
His real name is William Pratt and before he was a big star he lived in Enfield.
Well now, Karloff’s paternal grandmother was the sister to Anna Leonowens,
the real-life ‘Anna’ in the story of the King and I,
the most recent of which films starred Jodie Foster,
who also worked with another famous monster,
Hannibal Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins.
Anthony Hopkins narrated the film How The Grinch Stole Christmas,
which had originally been narrated on TV by our dear friend from Enfield, Boris Karloff.

Now I hope we all remember that Frankenstein was written by Mary Shelley,
while she was holidaying a million miles away from the not-yet-invented Hollywood,
in the Villa Diodata with Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and John William Polidari,
because this is crucial to Enfield’s pretensions to literary glory.
Much later, of course, Byron would have a daughter called Ada,
who worked with Charles, the “father of the computer” Babbage.
Babbage went to school in Enfield even though, as far as anyone knows,
he never wrote a story about Frankenstein or vampires.
Talking of vampires, someone who did write about them was Byron,
but chances are that he stole the idea from Polidari.

Anyway Byron’s vampire wasn’t the Dracula we came to know and love.
That Dracula was played in the early movies by Bela Lugosi,
who starred with Boris Karloff in The Raven,
an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s story of the same name -
Poe having been educated in.... Stoke Newington (with apologies to Enfield).
The author of Dracula, of course, was Bram Stoker,
and his brother, Sir William Thornley Stoker,
employed a companion for his wife by the name of Florence Dugdale.
Florence having been born and educated in Enfield, which,
by a strange twist of fate, is where Florence married the writer Thomas Hardy,
who wrote a poem called “Shelley’s Skylark”, after Shelley’s poem “Ode to a Skylark”.

Now the publisher of some of Shelley’s oeuvre was Edward Moxon,
who married the poet Charles Lamb’s adopted daughter, Emma Isola.
From time to time Lamb lived variously in Edmonton and Enfield,
his sister Mary having murdered their mother with a kitchen knife in a fit of pique.
Charles Lamb, in turn, was friends with Charles Cowden Clarke,
whose father taught at a school in Enfield
where young Clarke befriended a sickly boy by the name of John Keats.
Keats died too young for his own good, but before he shuffled off his mortal coil,
he famously entered into an epic poetry competition with Shelley,
to whom he’d been introduced by James Henry Leigh Hunt.
Hunt had been born in Southgate... in the Borough of Enfield 
Well, the story goes that whilst Hunt was banged up at His Majesty’s pleasure,
for having dissed the Prince Regent, he had a visit from Byron,
who of course was with Mary Shelley and that entire monster-creating crew
when she wrote a little story called Frankenstein.
Mary Shelley, as far as I know, never stepped foot in Enfield,
but the monster she created lived on in Boris Karloff, who did,
although there are no blue plaques to that effect.