This post is the first in a new series that aims to spotlight Romantic locations that are, perhaps, ‘off the beaten path’. In this post, we visit Matlock Bath in Derbyshire, England.
Matlock Bath’s origins are in the lead mining industry, which peaked in the 17th century, but the town gained popularity for its thermal springs and spa waters in the late 18th century. The disused lead mines’ transition into ‘show caves’, along with the area’s sublime natural scenery, attracted attention from 19th century tourists including Lord Byron and Mary Shelley.
In his History of Derbyshire, John Pendleton writes:
It was here that the distinguished poet, the gifted writer of “Childe Harold” met Mary Chaworth, the heiress of Annesley, and indulged in the hapless love-dream that only ended in—farewell. “Had I”, he regretfully said, “married Miss Chaworth, perhaps the whole tenor of my life would have been different.” Since the days when Lord Byron looked joyously through love’s spectacles at the bold cliffs and gently gliding river, Matlock Bath has become a kind of Pool of Bethesda, to which the grievously afflicted, and those who suffer for luxury and satiety, go in hope of finding relief.
– from A History of Derbyshire by John Pendleton (London: Eliott Stock, 62 Paternoster Row, 1886), p. 56.
Additionally, William Adam’s The Gem of the Peak, or Matlock Bath and its Vicinity takes the following excerpt from Frankenstein as an epigraph to its chapter on Matlock Bath:
‘We left Oxford with regret, and proceeded to Matlock, which was our next place of rest. The country in the neighbourhood of this village resembled, to a greater degree, the Scenery of Switzerland; but every thing is on a lower scale, and the green hills want the crown of distant white Alps, which always attends on the piny mountains of my native country. We visited the wondrous cave, and the cabinets of natural history, where the curiosities are disposed in the same manner as in the collections at Servox and Chamounix.’—Mrs. Shelley’s Frankenstein. Stan. Nov. Ed. page 142.’
— from The Gem of the Peak by William Adam, fourth edition (London: Longman & Co., 1845), p. 27.
This month, Frankenstein bicentenary celebrations will be held in Matlock Bath to spotlight the spa town’s connection to Mary Shelley’s novel. The Frankenstein Festival will run from October 26th to November 4th and features a short story competition that invites participants to incorporate ‘the wondrous cave’—the Great Masson Cavern—into their Gothic tales. Below, Professor Andrew Smith (University of Sheffield) discusses Matlock Bath’s relevance to Frankenstein and the novel’s endurance:
What is the significance of Matlock Bath to Mary Shelley and to Frankenstein?
Victor Frankenstein passes through Matlock (actually Matlock Bath) in the novel. Matlock Bath was described as ‘little Switzerland’ by romantic-era visitors (including Byron) who struggled to travel across continental Europe due to the Napoleonic wars. Victor’s journey sees him head south through Matlock Bath to Derby and then back north towards the Lake District. This rather convoluted, and seemingly unnecessary, detour would take him through Cromford which was, because of Awkright’s Mill, at the heart of the Industrial Revolution. Mary Shelley thus wants us to think about the relationship between science and the birth of the machine age – themes which are relevant to the creature’s creation.
Why do you think Frankenstein is still relevant today?
Frankenstein has become a byword for all types of innovation that our culture is worried about as evidenced by newspaper headlines concerning genetically modified ‘Frankenfoods’ (to give just one example). More generally there are specific cultural concerns about topics such as embryo research which makes the novel relevant for many. The novel is about standing up for the outcast and opposing injustice and these are themes which also speak to us today in our austerity-driven and war-torn times.
How is the University of Sheffield involved in the Frankenstein Festival?
I suggested the idea to Matlock Bath Parish Council last year and the Matlock Bath Development Agency have played a leading role in organising the event. Professor Angela Wright and I have advised members of the organising committee on the type of events that the Festival could promote. To that end we suggested a story competition, a film presentation and a lecture on the novel. We had two MA students (Rhia Hopley and Connor McKay) who helped to devise the Festival website and produce related advertising material as part of a work placement module. I will give a lecture on Mary Shelley, introduce a film showing of Frankenstein (1931) and help to judge the short story competition. There are other festival events as well.
For more on Matlock Bath’s Frankenstein Festival, see the official website here.
And remember to check out Frankenreads for more bicentenary celebrations near you!