This month marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Considered by many to be one of the first science fiction novels, Frankenstein also shares many elements of gothic horror and the romantic movement. The story of how Frankenstein was conceived is well-known: the stormy weather, trading ghost stories, the nightmare inspiration that became literary legend. The creature himself has also become a legend; the name of Frankenstein is largely accepted as a substitute for the unnamed character so I will use it here.
Frankenstein is created in a laboratory, not piecemeal from body parts as in the films but from a nebulous scientific process involving chemistry, alchemy and galvanism. Aware that his appearance repulses and frightens, Frankenstein struggles to find a place for himself in this world without the guiding hand of the creator who rejected him. While the book shows Frankenstein as an eloquent philosopher, able to comment on his loneliness, he is also filled with anger and vengeance towards the world and his creator; a romantic hero and a monster.
Mary Shelley had a very complicated relationship with her parents: early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (who died giving birth to her) and the radical scholar William Godwin. She married a poet devotee of her father’s, Percy Bysshe Shelley and became involved in the circle of Romantics with “mad, bad and dangerous to know” Lord Byron. With such a pedigree, she seems destined to have written Frankenstein at the age of nineteen. The Frankenstein story has seen many incarnations in popular culture over the last two hundred years and still forces us to question how far we will go in pursuit of science.
Here are a few titles you might find on Frankenstein’s monstrous bookshelf.
This blog post is one in a series highlighting our diverse collection through imagined reading lists for fictional characters. Search the tag From the Protagonist's Bookshelf for more reading lists.