Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

Mediating Monstrosity: Media, Information, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

Mediating Monstrosity: Media, Information, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Article excerpt

OVER THE COURSE OF THE LAST TWO DECADES, ROMANTICIST SCHOLARSHIP addressing interactive electronic hypertext environments has relied heavily upon Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein (1818, 1831) in an almost uncanny manner. In 2001, for example, Eric Sonstroem and Ron Broglio began collaborating to create FrankenMOO, an immersive electronic environment derived from Shelley's novel and hosted on the Romantic Circles website at the University of Maryland. Like any MOO, or "Multi-User Dimension, Object Oriented," FrankenMOO is designed to employ the internet to offer real-time interactions between multiple writers, readers, and users. As Sonstroem describes them, "MOOs offer the freewheeling interactivity of a connected set of chat rooms, but they frame this unstructured interaction within a relatively fixed and hierarchical textual landscape." (1) Sonstroem and Broglio designed FrankenMO0 to be much more than simply a recreation or critical and theoretical interpretation of Shelley's novel and certainly something other than simply a MOO whose themes are derived from Frankenstein. (2) Equipped with an Encore Xpress HTML interface, the Romantic Circles Villa Diodati MOO relies heavily upon the precise use of the original language from Shelley's novel for character, location, and object descriptions, and Franken MOO's interactive figures actually utter lines directly from the various versions of her original text. (3) In an even more recent example, in April 2009, Smart Curran's Romantic Circles Electronic Edition of Frankenstein went live online after fifteen years in the making. Collaborating with Jack Lynch, Sam Choi, Laura Mandell, and a number of other scholars, Curran has produced with his multimedia hypertext "Pennsylvania Electronic Edition" of Shelley's novel one of the most comprehensive single editions of any text in any form, print or electronic, to date. (4)

But why have recent Romanticist research and scholarship come to focus attention so heavily and specifically on Shelley's Frankenstein in the production of these immersive electronic environments, hypertext online resources, and digital humanities initiatives? Is there something unique about this novel which allows it to be employed for such projects or, perhaps, actually draws or even prompts scholars to turn to it while pursuing this type of work? A related question might be the following: why have scholars not turned as often in this form of research to other equally rich and complex texts from the Romantic era such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798, 1817), William Godwin's Caleb Williams (1794), William Wordsworth's The Prelude (1799, 1805, 1850), or Percy Bysshe Shelley's Queen Mab (1813) to name but only a few possible alternatives? Indeed, while electronic editions of rather expansive and complex texts ranging from Erasmus Darwin's The Temple of Nature (1803) to Coleridge's and Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads (1798-1805) certainly exist, few, if any, electronic resources come even close to approximating the scope and scale of projects involving Shelley's Frankenstein. (5) Sonstroem perhaps sums up the magnitude of such Frankenstein-based projects best: "We hoped [with FrankenMO0] to create a monster that was beyond our control." (6)

The creators of FrankenMO0 and the collaborators of the "Pennsylvania Electronic Edition" of Shelley's novel have provided some answers to these and other related questions concerning the reasoning behind turning to Frankenstein for the source of their various research projects. Lynch, for example, has noted that Curran's group chose to focus attention on Frankenstein because these collaborators understood Shelley's novel itself in terms of the logic of hypertext. As Lynch explains, "The novel is a natural for hypertext: every page is filled with pointers to other texts, both within the novel itself and beyond Shelley's text to a world of contemporary contexts," and, as a result, Curran's edition of the novel is probably best understood as an immense variorum. …

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