Frankenstein is Coming to Your Neighbourhood!!
What is Frankenreads and why is it important? You can start with a visit to their excellent site here. But in a nutshell, Frankenreads is an international celebration of the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for Halloween 2018 and is being organized by the Keats-Shelley Association of America of which I am honoured to be a Board Member. Frankenstein is important because, as the editors of the Frankenreads site note, the novel
appeals to both novice and expert readers alike and is a work that remains highly relevant to contemporary issues. Thus it is perhaps no surprise that Frankenstein is the most frequently taught work of literature in college English courses and the fifth most frequently taught book in college courses in all disciplines. It is certainly one of the most read British novels in the world.
To promote the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, fans of the novel were invited to host a “Frankenreads event” at their university, library or even in their homes. It was described as “an easy way both to celebrate the 200th anniversary of this important work and to foster discussion about issues such as ethics in science and the human tendency to demonize the unfamiliar.” By participating in Frankenreads, folks could make sure that their thoughts about Frankenstein become part of a global conversation.
That global conversation kicks off on Halloween, the 31st of October. And the conversation truly is global. Right now, Frankenreads has an incredible 546 institutional partners in 47 countries participating, including universities, libraries, schools, museums, and community centers, with more continuing to join each day. The Library of Congress is hosting a live-streamed public reading of the novel in its entirety. It takes place is the LoC’s Main Reading Room on Halloween. You can find a full list of the partners here.
And it is not to late to do something yourself! If you're not able to organize or attend a local Frankenreads event, you might consider following the wonderful example of one of my fellow Board Members and host a Frankenreads dinner party, where parts of the novel could be read aloud or discussed. There is also an amazing website, The Shelley-Godwin Archive, where you can actually read the manuscript copy of the novel!
Finally, be sure to watch the livestream of the reading of Frankenstein at the Library of Congress beginning 9am EST on Wednesday, 31 October 2018. You can read more about this amazing event here.
For me the 200th Anniversary of the publication of this wonderful novel is a terrific opportunity to draw attention to the important ideas upon which the plot is based. I briefly canvas some of these in a short video shot two years ago at the Villa Diodati in Geneva where Mary conceived the idea for her novel during the summer of 1816. You can watch it here:
While all of the attention focused on Frankenstein is most welcome, it is important to remember that it was not just Frankenstein that was conceived in Geneva during that fateful summer. John Polidori, Byron’s doctor, began work on The Vampyre - a work that formed the foundation of the tradition of Dracula - a tradition which is arguably as culturally important as Frankenstein. Mary’s husband Percy, for his part, was gestating his theory of the imagination in his famous poem, Mont Blanc.
Finally, almost completely lost in the focus on Mary, is the fact that Percy played an important role in the novel’s creation (once upon a time overstated, but now just as often understated). For example, in Haifaa al Mansour’s dreadful teenage drama, Mary Shelley, the role he plays is to steal the novel entirely - only to much later admit the novel was Mary’s. This ridiculous fabrication has now infected the popular imagination of many casual readers. Worse, the movie imagines Mary writing the 60,000 word novel in a single night based entirely on personal experiences and tragedies. This equally ridiculous fabrication does Mary no favours either. You can read my review of this abominable movie here.
There is an excellent commentary on the question of authorship here. It comes from Dr. Charles Robinson’s definitive edition of the novel. He remarks in his introduction:
If, as this edition will make evident, MWS is the creative genius by which this novel was conceived and developed, we can call PBS an able midwife who helped his wife bring her monster to life. His “hand” is in evidence in each of the extant Frankenstein Notebooks, and the "Frankenstein Chronology; below demonstrates his involvement in the printing, publishing, and reviewing of the novel. That PBS collaborated on this novel should come as no surprise to anyone, because the Shelleys left a long history of their shared activities as creative artists. They transcribed and they edited each other's works; they encouraged each other to undertake or to modify major works; and they even collaborated in the publication of History of a Six Weeks' Tour at a time when Frankenstein was being readied for the press. It is hoped that this edition will encourage someone to undertake a major study of this collaboration, which extended from the sublime (MWS's Frankenstein; or PBS's later response to this “Modern Prometheus” in his Prometheus Unbound) to the ridiculous (the two Shelleys engaged in a rhyming game in one of their pocket books, MWS providing the rhyming words and PBS filling out each line).
It is my great hope that Frankenreads will open a doorway not just to the work of Mary Shelley but all of the Romantics - and Percy in particular. Percy’s political philosophy, his skepticism, his belief in the revolutionary value of empathy and his concept of a cultivated, revolutionary imagination have much to teach us about how to deal with an age of tyrants, massive concentration of wealth and fake news - an age much like his own.
The brainchild of the Keats-Shelley Association of America, Frankenreads is an exciting opportunity to bring the past alive and to change our future. Embrace it!
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