When we dream of Venice, we dream of romance, sitting with the man or woman of your dreams in a gondola as it’s piloted through the canals. Listening to the gondolier sing a ballad of love and seeing the water lap against the old palazzos where pots of brilliantly colored flowers relax on terraces, and smile at the sun. We board a vaporetto and pay a visit to Murano where the art of glassmaking industry has made everything from bowls to chandeliers since 1251 and Burano, a fishing village known for its lace and, the third and most charming village—Torcello, with an ancient stone bridge and the Cattedrale di Torcello with its Byzantine mosaics. For shoppers a walk across the single arched RialtoBridge is an invitation to luxury boutiques and inexpensive souvenir stands. We flock to St. Mark’s Basilica, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the Academy Gallery and walk, and walk, and walk—losing ourselves in the streets—perhaps the most fun of all.
But there is another side to Venice, there is the Piazzetta San Marco, a minute square next to the Doge’s Palace that faces the Grand Canal. Here, the infamous medieval justice of Venice was carried out—Victims lost their head or were hung after being held in torture chambers where they were interrogated. Inquisitors known as The Terrible Ten were appointed by the city to dispense justice. The prisoners first crossed The Bridge of Sighs—the name descends from the wail of sorrow by victims forced to cross the bridge knowing they would suffer torture and almost certain death. The Palace of the Doges dates back to 1309—a fire in 1577 damaged much of the building and many magnificent artworks were ruined but a number of the finest Venetian artists of the 16th century contributed to its restoration by replacing the frescoes and paintings of old masters.
A city filled with beauty, fine shops and restaurants and like any other—a city that has known evil.
Mary Godwin Wollstonecraft, eighteen years old in 1815, spent a frigid, summer when she and her lover and husband to be—Percy Bysshe Shelley paid a visit to Lord Byron at his Villa by Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The rain and gloom cancelled a summer filled with the pleasures of the outdoors and the trio stayed inside the Villa Diodati consoling themselves with warmth and conversation. One of the subjects discussed was the achievability of returning a cadaver or accumulated sections of the body to life. The trio read ghost stories and at Byron’s suggestion each would write an unnatural narrative.
Mary Shelley created Frankenstein after she had a dream that aroused sensations of fear and horror. In the nightmare, she watched as a “student kneeled beside a thing he had put together...a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life...” The short story Mary Shelley began grew into a novel where Victor Frankenstein is passionate about science and believes he can channel the power of lightning. He develops a course of action that will return the dead to life and plans on the creation of a beautiful creature, instead thing that emerges is—in his eyes—a monster and Frankenstein rejects his own creation.
We craft our own individuals when we write—taking physical characteristics and eccentricities from strangers, relatives and friends, we use parts of stories never finished but overheard in restaurants and plot their endings. We borrow a pithy line that made us laugh while eavesdropping during a dull subway ride—and combine them all into characters that we hope will live and breathe in the pages of our stories and novels. Sometimes our characters rebel and add a twist to our plot. The beautiful heroine has a fatal flaw; the villain has undiscovered good in him waiting to be discovered. When we pick up our pen or sit down at our computer we use our gifts as writers to animate and bring our characters to life just as Victor Frankenstein through the writing of Mary Godwin Wollstonecraft Shelley used electrical power to bring his creature to a life that is remembered generation after generation.