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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Josephson

Mary Shelley Wrote Frankenstein When She Was 19 Years Old

Facts can be dangerous, or helpful, or irrelevant even if true.

According to Google, 3,000 species of mushroom can be found in California. Does this fact mean anything to me? No, because I have no vested interest in mushrooms - how many there are and/or where they are has no bearing on me or my world view or self worth. It's just a fact. Then I come across a fact like this: Mary Shelley, born in 1797, started writing the first edition of Frankenstein when she was 18 and completed it when she was 19 years old. When I was 19 I wrote a play about the characters in Billy Joel's "Piano Man" coming to life and encouraging "John at the Bar" to quit his job and peruse his life's ambitious of "becoming a movie star." While I was doing that, Shelley wrote one of the iconic works of fiction of her century or any century.

Unlike the mushrooms, I care a lot about writing, and I find this information overwhelmingly relevant to me personally. I'd like to write something that people like and ultimately care about, and I've been trying to do that for a long time. And even though I've done a lot and learned a lot and tried a lot and failed a lot but succeeded some, I've never written anything "timeless" or "iconic" or "groundbreaking" or anything remotely close.

And I'm twice her age.

And I'm straight, white, formally educated, upper-middle class, cis-man living in Southern California, with all the privileges therein. I must be a failure. At least that's how I often feel, by comparison.

I don't know why, no I do know why, I don't WANT to pick and choose which facts I apply to my own life or career or accomplishments and determine my own self-worth, but I do anyway. And it's not good. And it never makes me feel good. But I do it. And I shouldn't. Because ultimately, the facts of her career and her art should have no bearing on me whatsoever. It's not like she wrote a page of her novel and then hit one of my ancestors with a stick. And after every page she hit Great-great-great-grandma Josephson with a stick which caused a multi-generational deficiency that in turn lead to my lack of relative success to maybe the most influential science fiction writer ever. In that scenario, I'd concede that her art negatively impacted my career, but that's the only scenario I can think of. Shelley's work is hers, her deserved accomplishments and accolades are hers and in no way diminish mine. Her success is as relevant to my success, and should be as relevant to how I feel about myself, as the 3,000 species of mushrooms in California. But such is the nature of the struggle.

So I celebrate Shelley as I celebrate acclaimed contemporary writers, as I celebrate my peers, as I celebrate my friends. I celebrate them for what their work means to me and also what hope their work means to them - their successes are theirs. That's the takeaway here. That and don't

hit anyone with sticks, because, I mean, you never know.

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