An Immortal Attitude
"Death Mysterious, ill-visaged friend of weak humanity! Why alone of all mortals have you cast me from your sheltering fold? Oh, for the peace of the grave! the deep silence of the iron-bound tomb! That thought would cease to work in my brain, and my heart beat no more with emotions varied only by new forms of sadness! . . .
Am I immortal?
. . . Thus I have lived on for many a year—alone and weary of myself—desirous of death, yet never dying—a mortal immortal.
. . . Neither ambition nor avarice can enter my mind, and the ardent love that gnaws at my heart, never to be returned — never to find an equal on which to expend itself — lives there only to torment me.
. . . I yield this body, too tenacious a cage for a soul which thirsts for freedom, to the destructive elements of air and water . . .
. . . I shall adopt more resolute means, and, by scattering and annihilating the atoms that compose my frame, set at liberty the life imprisoned within, and so cruelly prevented from soaring from this dim earth to a sphere more congenial to its immortal essence."
—Winzy, from Mary Shelley’s 'The Mortal Immortal'
WHOA! Is this how everyone feels about being immortal? I think not. Just ask the vampire Lestat de Lioncourt, whom Anne Rice endowed with a much more go-get-em attitude. Or perhaps Eric Northman, Charlaine Harris’ beloved Viking of the modern age. No Poor, Poor me for those fabulous gentlemen. Granted, Lestat’s honey, Louis, wasn’t quite as thrilled to be immortal after the novelty wore off. Which reminds me that Sookie's Bill Compton wasn’t exactly the life of the party either. Is this a blond thing? Do they truly have more fun?
Lord Ruthven (both Polidori’s and Berard’s versions) and Count Dracula would beg to differ. Both Raven-haired gents get about their business with particular aplomb—and with absolutely no desire to have their atoms annihilated. In fact, Dracula fights like the dickens to keep those atoms sharing their electrons!
Miriam Blaylock, in “The Hunger”, is hardly morose, and yet there is an ancient melancholy about her stunningly beautiful life. She loves eternally. She needs her companions—but she must live a lie for several hundred years with each one, as she has led them to believe they will retain their youth with their immortality. The lie is a ghastly betrayal. She is no sociopath, but
merely accepting of her curse, to the extreme horror of those lovers. But you don’t see her wanting death’s sweet release.
And here, I'll veer of course a tad: More recently, a special offering to the Vampire genre was made by none other than the unique, dark, and quietest of the last great Naughty and Delinquent writers, Nick Tosches. He, his agent, his editors, and publishers (and even I) would argue that it most definitely shouldn’t be on the shelf with “Twilight”. But “Me and the Devil” IS a Vampire book. If he was playing on the genre for irony or absurdity’s sake, well, fine—and yes, those two books are opposite ends of the spectrum. But he certainly made it a part of the genre with his sensuous, transportive descriptions of food, drink (including blood . . . and milk), sex, clothing, esoteric lore, history, etc, etc,--oh, and the insanity and melancholy that accompanies an artist (writer) who knows he is now immortal. After all, when Nick moves beyond the veil, I’ll still have him here with me, in caressingly-tangible hardback.
The smoky, dark, mental paths he attempts to tread with dignity are no different than the symbols he uses, comparing Vampirism with the addictions of cigarettes, alcohol, food, knowledge, experience, women . . . and writing. And let me say, he clearly has a count's refined tastes, even if he tries to dress them in a tawdry fashion. (What worries me, and this is a confession, is that I found I resonated rather intensely with far too much that the ‘Nick’ of his novel had to say. Seriously Spooky!)
But there is pure Gothic consequence—the only difference being, this ‘vampire’ was able to choose in the end whether his consumption would destroy him, by not engaging in it, a day at a time. And a little warning—amazing as this book is, I don’t recommend it for the delicate! Modern male writers and their love of C-words and pornographic rather than romantic sex differentiates this from real Gothic vampire novels. (XX vs XY?). Just is what it is, although there is a very blurry line between worshipping the female and degrading her (even if it’s himself he’s eventually degrading by doing so).
Anyway, what redeems it is that, unlike Dracula, or even Winzy, this ‘Nick’ can see himself in the mirror and THAT is his saving grace (what with the unexamined life not worth living and all). Regardless, this mortal immortal goes through much of the self-loathing of Mary Shelley’s character, but seems to find some slightly foul, nevertheless real, hope in the end.
So coming back to our main path, is poor Winzy’s attitude really that hard to fathom? If you read his tale and know all he suffers, you'll get it. But then, he’s no vampire and has none of their powers. He was unlucky enough to be the assistant to the notorious alchemist, Cornelius Agrippa, and made a very big mistake: he drank a potion he thought was for love, but was actually an elixir of life. Being young, foolish, and devoid of imagination, he chose to spend life with his beloved Bertha, who grew old, abused him mercilessly from resentment over his non-aging, and died.
Prolonged life sucks. Or does it? Would someone with a tendency towards melancholia lean that way eventually if your powers were just normal and you had a bit of a codependent, obsessive side? Clearly, you’d get lonely without the object of your ardor. In the case of vampires, they can usually make themselves a companion—not so, poor Winzy. But what if he’d bucked up his attitude and looked on the bright side, like the curmudgeonly ‘Nick’?
Well we’ll never know. Shelley had him concoct a wild scheme, which isn’t fully explained, but you’re led to believe he’ll head to perhaps the arctic, like her Frankenstein’s Monster. Wherever he’s heading, he’s hoping the journey will kill him, because he can’t bring himself to die by his own hand.
He was really kind of a wuss all the way around—which just won’t do if you’re a mortal immortal. Because after a hundred years or so of moping around, wouldn’t it just get tiresome and old? As with evolution, adaptation is the key, which means ‘change’. Change, or continue the misery . . . unless misery is your thing. But somehow I suspect that were the fantasy of the Mortal Immortal ever to become real, there is plenty of self-help to encourage an infinite state of Nirvana. But wait—if Nirvana is in essence a ‘snuffing out’, well that sounds an awful lot like death. Doesn’t it?