Books lead to other books. Read one and you’re reminded of another. New publications refer to past ones, famous and obscure. Genres cross over, involving similar concepts, tropes, devices. Writers lift, pay tribute, re-imagine, claim as their own and take it a step further in their effort to tell gripping, original stories. Pick up the trail and we end up making extraordinary connections.
Welcome to Connection Degree Three …
Wake Of Liberty, a historical-fiction/dark-fantasy novel I’m writing on the French Revolution (a work in progress that also involves a fictitious New York in the 22nd century), takes inspiration from a) Heart Of Darkness (1899), a story narrated by Charles Marlow, a recurring character in Joseph Conrad’s stories, and b) Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus whose 1818 edition begins with a preface by someone named Marlow.
It’s an intriguing overlap. Of all the names Shelley and Conrad could have chosen, they went with Marlow.
Mary Shelley’s narrator came first, and was presumably inspired by the town of Marlow, Buckinghamshire, where she lived for a time with her husband and poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, whilst writing her famous book on the fictitious Dr. Victor Frankenstein.
Conrad’s Marlow, on the other hand, was presumably inspired by Elizabethan writer Christopher Marlowe, who, among other works, wrote Dido, Queen Of Carthage, featuring the hero Aeneas.
Aeneas, by the way, is featured in Homer’s Iliad, as one of the surviving heroes of Troy, and Virgil’s Aeneid as one of the ancestors of Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome, the city to which all roads led, and still do.
Besides Aeneas, Christopher Marlowe popularized the Faust legend in his play The Tragical Legend Of Doctor Faustus, which is probably why Conrad’s Marlow likens Kurtz to Mephistopheles in Heart Of Darkness.
The Faust legend was reworked two centuries later by Goethe, resulting in another great take on the story, but also, and here’s the fun part, observe Goethe’s spelling and sound: it’s awfully close to the word Gothic, which is what Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was: Gothic literature.
And here we are, full circle, back to the first Marlow, Mary Shelley’s, completing the journey.
Our journey has been somewhat whimsical this time round, and why not? Sometimes you have to go with the flow.
And so, without any reservation, it’s only appropriate to deem the name Marlow a sine qua non in stories that involve the death of humanity and the rise of the abominable, against which the human spirit fights to reclaim its prominence. Marlow is the harbinger of portent in dark, groundbreaking novels, in stories that deal with life, horror, death, and life after death.
He’s the voice in tales that involve the downfall of all things wonderful, and the challenges one faces in the wake of despair, and the belief that things will turn up again, our hope germinating the ruin.
Therefore Marlow will feature in WAKE OF LIBERTY, too, a story on oppression and revolution, death and rebirth – a story of great cities and even greater political causes and cultural histories, battles and aspirations, involving immense brutality, conflict and sacrifice. Marlow, the grim prophet, bearer of ill winds and grave tidings; progenitor of death and resurrection. Neither man nor woman, but a place, most likely, a borough, perhaps, part of the New World’s barracks where the heart of civilization once beat like a morning bell but now echoes dark and twisted (like Paris during the French Revolution) where life begins with purpose and enthusiasm, full of great ideas, dreams and caution thrown to the wind, a political experiment that leads to wonders, to outrageous and tremendous achievements, but also to heartbreak, injustice, uprising, revolution, ongoing chaos. Everything ends in ruin, lost for good, or so one thinks. The reality is that there’s hope in damage, life in the debris, and the circle begins anew, with a new world in mind and a fresh vision for the future. Whatever happened before will happen again, is the message. The only difference is in the locations and names, the details and specifics, the various turns of phrase – and even they sometimes remain the same. Like Lafayette. And Republican. And Democrat. And Liberty. Like dear old Marlow. Some names remain, circulating the ages, propelling the narratives that capture human imagination, reminding us to never lose faith as we strive for change.