Frankenstein Chronicles and William Blake’s Dark Metaphors

blake3

 

Good is the passive that obeys Reason

Evil is the active springing from Energy

– William Blake in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell

 

The Frankenstein Chronicles, currently streaming on Netflix, is one of the few television series which almost succeeds in accomplishing a multi-media  creation which has the multiple layers and depths of a novel.

It is a crime period drama based in 1827 London. Its story line is as muddy, gritty and dark as the streets of London in those times. It is a beguiling take on  Mary Shelley’s Gothic classic from the viewpoint of a detective, Marlott (Sean Bean) who, in his attempts to solve the mystery behind bodies of children stitched together which keep washing up on the shore, ends up becoming Frankenstein’s monster himself.

12
Leonard Raven-Hill

The creators of these series have managed to come up with sordid and grisly characters of all shapes and sizes, perhaps a reflection of the underbelly of human consciousness.

lon_slums
Illustration credit : Leonard Raven-Hill

The sets are bleak and gloomy and the visuals require a tough stomach. Underlying the the dirt and wide spread poverty, blood and gore, brutalized women and children, and depraved intellects is the art and poetry of William Blake.

The English poet and painter William Blake (1757-1827) left a body of breathtaking art and intriguing poetry, much of it concerned with religion and revolutionary struggles of his time—the American and French revolutions, the British radical movement of the 1790s, and later, the growing British labour and constitutional movement in the years 1810-1820.

The creators of this series have very interestingly juxtaposed the monster of William Blake’s visions with Frankenstein’s monster with all its shades of grey. The true meaning of Blake’s visions and imagery slowly dawn on the protagonist, Marlott, as he undergoes a kind of the catharsis, first during his mercury induced dazed illusions and next as Frankenstein’s monster hanging between life and death, heaven and hell, questioning the morality behind medical science’s attempts at conquering bodily death at the cost of losing the soul.

Season 2, Episode 1 is titled Little Boy Lost after Blakes poem of the same name:

The_Little_Boy_Lost
Illuminated drawing. Credits Willam Blake archives, Wikepeida

 

Father! father! where are you going?
O do not walk so fast.
Speak, father, speak to your little boy,
Or else I shall be lost.

The night was dark, no father was there;
The child was wet with dew;
The mire was deep, & the child did weep,
And away the vapour flew.

Most of Blakes compositions are influenced by his Christian faith. In the above illustration, the child’s father represented by a dim light,  could be the symbol of God’s word,  which the child tries to follow feebly, being surrounded by darkness and mire symbolizing the temptations of  a sinful life. Perhaps the message here is that if our faith in the Divine is weak like a child then we are bound to get stuck and lost in the temptations of the world.

In Season 1, a young girl disappears on a Sunday when she is wearing her Rose pink dress. Marlott suspects that she is abducted by a notorious character by the name of Billy Oates (Robie Gee), and comes across a page from William Blakes poem -The Little Girl Lost, at Billy’s den:

The_Little_Girl_Lost

 

In futurity
I prophetic see
That the earth from sleep
(Grave the sentence deep)

Shall arise and seek
For her Maker meek;
And the desert wild
Become a garden mild.

In the southern clime,
Where the summer’s prime
Never fades away,
Lovely Lyca lay.

Seven summers old
Lovely Lyca told;
She had wander’d long
Hearing wild birds’ song.

‘Sweet sleep, come to me
Underneath this tree.
Do father, mother, weep?
Where can Lyca sleep?

‘Lost in desert wild
Is your little child.
How can Lyca sleep
If her mother weep?

‘If her heart does ache
Then let Lyca wake;
If my mother sleep,
Lyca shall not weep.

‘Frowning, frowning night,
O’er this desert bright,
Let thy moon arise
While I close my eyes.’

Sleeping Lyca lay
While the beasts of prey,
Come from caverns deep,
View’d the maid asleep.

The kingly lion stood,
And the virgin view’d,
Then he gamboll’d round
O’er the hallow’d ground.

Leopards, tigers, play
Round her as she lay,
While the lion old
Bow’d his mane of gold

And her bosom lick,
And upon her neck
From his eyes of flame
Ruby tears there came;

While the lioness
Loos’d her slender dress,
And naked they convey’d
To caves the sleeping maid.

Interestingly, according to some, this poem represents a young girl waking up to her sexuality. The beasts of prey when seen in dreams, are often interpreted as symbolizing carnal desires.

girl

One of the episodes in the second season is titled ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ after Willam Blake’s magnum opus composition which had a far reaching influence during his time and in the years to come.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is a book by Blake consisting of  a series of texts written in imitation of biblical prophecy but expressing Blake’s own intensely personal Romantic and revolutionary beliefs. Like his other books, it was published as printed sheets from etched plates containing prose, poetry and illustrations. The plates were then coloured by Blake and his wife Catherine.

william
Steven Berkoff as William Blake 

The work was composed between 1790 and 1793, in the period of socio-political turmoil immediately after the French Revolution. The title is an ironic reference to Emanuel Swedenborg’s theological work Heaven and Hell, published in Latin 33 years earlier. While Blake was influenced by Swedenborg’s grand and mystical cosmic conception, he did not agree with Swedenborg’s conventional moral strictures and his dualistic view of good and evil. Blake had a depolarized and unified vision of the cosmos in which the material world and physical desire are equally part of the divine order (interestingly this veiw finds parallels in the Hindu Tantric belief system of Shiva and Shakti); hence the books title – a marriage of heaven and hell. The book is written in prose, except for the opening “Argument” and the “Song of Liberty”. The book describes the poet’s visit to Hell, a device adopted by Blake from Dante’s Divine Comedy and Milton’s Paradise Lost.

blake3

“Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion,Reason and Energy, Love and Hate are necessary to Human existence.From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil.Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy. Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.”

blake_desire

 

desire

Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer of reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling.

And being restrain’d it by degrees becomes passive till it is only the shadow of desire.

blake_desire

desire_2

In Tantric Hinduism, Good and Evil are considered to be the two side of the same coin which does not roll without these two aspects. Shiva corresponds to Consciousness otherwise labelled as Good; and Shakti corresponds to Energy,  inappropriately labelled as Evil by those who are unable to rise above the dualistic illusion or Maya.

blake_excess

pestilence

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.

He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.

enough

 

Expect poison from the standing water.
You never know what is enough unless you know what is
more than enough.

 

blake_infant

 

Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted
desires.
Where man is not, nature is barren.
Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be
believed.
Enough! or Too much.

william2

 

The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with
Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and
adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers,
mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their
enlarged and numerous senses could perceive.
And particularly they studied the genius of each city
and country, placing it under its mental deity.
Till a system was formed, which some took
advantage of and enslaved the vulgar by attempting to
realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects:
thus began Priesthood.
Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.
And at length they pronounced that the Gods had
ordered such things.
Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.

doors
Marlott visits William Blake

 

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.

For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.

 

 

doors2

 

Illustration credits:

  •  http://www.themorgan.org/collection/William-Blakes-World
  • TVGuide. UK

 

Advertisements

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s