Frankenstein 200: The Birth, Life, and Resurrection of Mary Shelley's Monster

Frankenstein 200: The Birth, Life, and Resurrection of Mary Shelley's Monster

Frankenstein 200: The Birth, Life, and Resurrection of Mary Shelley's Monster

Frankenstein 200: The Birth, Life, and Resurrection of Mary Shelley's Monster

Synopsis

Two centuries ago, a teenage genius created a monster that still walks among us. In 1818, Mary Shelley published Frankenstein, and in doing so set forth into the world a scientist and his monster. The daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, famed women's rights advocate, and William Godwin, radical political thinker and writer, Mary Shelley is considered the mother of the modern genres of horror and science fiction. At its core, however, Shelley's Frankenstein is a contemplation on what it means to be human, what it means to chase perfection, and what it means to fear things suchsuch things as ugliness, loneliness, and rejection.

In celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, the Lilly Library at Indiana University presents Frankenstein 200: The Birth, Life, and Resurrection of Mary Shelley's Monster. This beautifully illustrated catalog looks closely at Mary Shelley's life and influences, examines the hundreds of reincarnations her book and its characters have enjoyed, and highlights the vast, deep, and eclectic collections of the Lilly Library. This exhibition catalog is a celebration of books, of the monstrousness that exists within us all, and of the genius of Mary Shelley.

Excerpt

Nor is the empire of the imagination less bounded in its own proper creations,
than in those which were bestowed on it by the poor blind eyes of our ancestors.
What has become of enchantresses with their palaces of crystal and dungeons of
palpable darkness? What of fairies and their wands? What of witches and their
familiars? and, last, what of ghosts, with beckoning hands and fleeting shapes, which
quelled the soldier’s brave heart, and made the murderer disclose to the astonished
noon the veiled work of midnight? These which were realities to our fore-fathers, in
our wiser age—

—Characterless are grated
To dusty nothing.

Mary Shelley, On Ghosts. London Magazine, 1824

Human memory is a funny thing. You think you remember in quantum detail the first date with someone you subsequently fell in love with, or where you were and what you were doing on 9/11, or when President Obama won his second term. Investigation, which is something we rarely perform, will in all likelihood prove otherwise; that your remembered life was different, and lived by someone else.

Our perceptions are a collage of absence seizures, filled in with whatever passes for the stuff of extrapolation in our brains.

The history of fiction in general, and weird or speculative fiction in particular, is pretty much the same. We think we remember all the high points—Frankenstein, the Vampyre, Poe, Le Fanu, Varney the Vampire, Dracula, etc.—but in reality, we’re just glossing over all the places where we weren’t paying attention.

In 1666 Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle—scientist, philosopher, poet, patron of all things strange, first woman to attend a meeting of the Royal Society and get annoyed with Hooke, argue with Hobbes, and raise an eyebrow at Boyle—wrote a book entitled The Blazing World, a mad mix of Utopianism, social commentary, and straight-up weird fiction, with a spot of romance and autobiographical side-eye thrown in. It’s a masterpiece of fish men, talking animals, submarine warfare, and . . .

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