In commemoration of the 200th birthday of the 1818 publication of Frankenstein, the Keats-Shelley Association of America created the Frankenreads celebration. It was an international event, universities across the globe held events in celebration of the book. Stevenson participated in Frankenreads, bringing together the School of Humanities and Social Services, the School of the Sciences, and School of Design for a day full of Frankenstein-themed events. This celebration, while it is a day of fun and enjoyment, brings me to the question of why has this book endured for the past 200 years?
Dr. Amanda Licastro posed this question at the beginning of the day’s first event, the history of Frankenstein presented by Dr. Cheryl Wilson. She attempted to bring us to an answer to this question by looking at the book as just one in a long line of books about creation narratives. Humans as a whole are obsessed with the idea of the creation narrative. We are obsessed with it because no one has a true answer as to where we come from and why we are made the way we are. Her talk brought us to look at two other things as well, the subtitle of the 1818 version The Modern Prometheus and the romantic ideologies that surrounded the world Mary Shelley wrote the book in.
The second lecture of the day brought us to look at the alchemy that Dr. Victor Frankenstein is obsessed with presented by Dr. Kerry Spencer and Dr. Jeremy Burkett. Alchemy is a blending of science and magic. The science vs. magic question was one that the romantic era was obsessed with. It was a question that had no clear answer because there were no clear boundaries between science and magic. The monster himself is not actually a creation of magic, as Victor had pushed aside all belief in magic and alchemy during his creation of the monster, he is the ultimate homunculus (a human being created by humans) created by science. This kind of science brings us to the question of “can” and “should”. We can make this thing but should we make this thing.
My creative writing class taught by Professor Meagan Nyland’s then presented short stories based off the book. This was a loose prompt for the stories so that we were able to take our interpretations and run in any direction we wanted. We picked from scenes in the book, quotes, themes, or characters. It was a rewarding experience to say the least. Everyone’s interpretation of the story was different.
We finished the evening off with a showing of the Bride of Frankenstein with a preface by Professor Chris Ernst. He spoke about how the film has underlying themes of feminism, gender, and sexuality throughout. The 1935 film was directed by one of the first openly queer directors in the film industry. The movie presented interesting parallels to the book which made them fun to compare.
All in all, the day was incredibly successful. Frankenstein is one of my favorite books and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the history of the book and the alchemy. Being able to recreate my own vision of the book was rewarding for me and gave me a new perspective on the text.