Frankenstein and the inverse guitar

Several years ago, while living in Charleston and before I really knew anything about subscription databases in academia, I hand-compiled a list of poetry that references the word "guitar" in it. I called it "1/Guitar" or the "In-Verse Guitar Project". Unlike what I wrote at the top of the page in 2005, I doubt I'll ever go back and augment the list – at least not by hand.

Anyway, the work was driven, in part, from reading a blurb about some guitar strings that were analyzed from a guitar once thought to be owned by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Quick aside: I once wrote a melody/harmony to his "Love's Philosphy" in college but never did anything with it since I would have made myself write at least one or two more settings of other poems of his so that it wasn't a one-off. I never really worked out the texture for guitar for the harmony, but I can still hear the melody with harmony in my head. Anyway, they'd just have languished given that I wouldn't have harassed any singers in college to learn them, etc.

Getting back on track (for now) I'm pretty sure this is what I read – man, this was a long time ago in Chucktown!

Rambling on, I recently finished reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

There are a four references to the guitar, during the part where the "monster" spends time in the forest watching over a family he longs to befriend.

Here they are:

  1. "It was on one of these days, when my cottagers periodically rested from labour—the old man played on his guitar, and the children listened to him—that I observed the countenance of Felix was melancholy beyond expression; he sighed frequently, and once his father paused in his music, and I conjectured by his manner that he inquired the cause of his son's sorrow. Felix replied in a cheerful accent, and the old man was recommencing his music when someone tapped at the door.

  2. "The next morning Felix went out to his work, and after the usual occupations of Agatha were finished, the Arabian sat at the feet of the old man, and taking his guitar, played some airs so entrancingly beautiful that they at once drew tears of sorrow and delight from my eyes. She sang, and her voice flowed in a rich cadence, swelling or dying away like a nightingale of the woods.

  3. "When she had finished, she gave the guitar to Agatha, who at first declined it. She played a simple air, and her voice accompanied it in sweet accents, but unlike the wondrous strain of the stranger. The old man appeared enraptured and said some words which Agatha endeavoured to explain to Safie, and by which he appeared to wish to express that she bestowed on him the greatest delight by her music.

  4. "When his children had departed, he took up his guitar and played several mournful but sweet airs, more sweet and mournful than I had ever heard him play before."

It's interesting that #2 and #3 clearly reference vocalization. And I like how in #3 that it's the voice that "accompanied" the guitar. That makes me wonder about #1 and #4. Were they pieces for solo guitar? Was #1 an intabulation of the song in #2 and, if so, is that why it made Felix so sad – because it reminded him of when the woman he loved sang the melody?

And on a final note, I'd like to paste one more quote from the book, which I think provides a nice overview of the novel's message to me, the interpreter. These words are the last spoken by Frankenstein. It gets at what I think about a lot: people who do out of selfishness and ego rather than passion and love. The former will never know what it's like to play truly "mournful but sweet airs".

"Farewell, Walton! Seek happiness in tranquillity and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries. Yet why do I say this? I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed." – Victor Frankenstein.

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