On March 11, 1818, Mary Shelley published Frankenstein, and the English Department’s Graduate Track in British and American Literature decided to dedicate the 2017-18 academic year to celebrating this singular accomplishment.
Often credited with inventing the genre of science fiction, Shelley’s novel is both of its time and timeless, a representative example of romantic literature and an enduring meditation on universal themes that have inspired readers and artists for 200 years.
This fall we placed Frankenstein in a transnational nineteenth-century context, exploring the metaphysics of Mary Shelley’s spouse, Percy Bysshe Shelley, in his magisterial poem “Mont Blanc” (1817), and Charles Brockden Brown’s early American Gothic account of a midnight murder in “Somnambulism: A Fragment” (1805).
In the spring, we will consider the novel’s long life in popular culture, by screening the famous Boris Karloff 1931 creature feature on March 11, 2018, and discussing Victor LaValle’s Destroyer, a sequel to Shelley’s original, published serially in 2017 and expected as a graphic novel in March 2018. LaValle updates the story of a mad scientist with power to create life, setting the graphic novel in contemporary Chicago where Victor Frankenstein’s monster confronts his creator’s descendant after she resurrects her son, gunned down by police violence.
What makes this story so enduring? Christopher Frayling suggests the monster has come to represent the border between what is scientifically possible and what is ethically responsible, an issue of increasing tension in our STEM-obsessed climate, but perhaps you’d like to join us this spring as we posit our own answers.
Do you have a favorite Frankenstein adaptation?
— Wendy Matlock, Associate Professor and Director of the Literature Track