Mary Shelley practically invented the horror genre two hundred years ago with "Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus," when she was eighteen years old, relaying her personal tragedy into a horror story for the ages:
She didn’t put her name on her book—she published “Frankenstein” anonymously, in 1818, not least out of a concern that she might lose custody of her children—and she didn’t give her monster a name, either. “This anonymous androdaemon,” one reviewer called it. For the first theatrical production of “Frankenstein,” staged in London in 1823 (by which time the author had given birth to four children, buried three, and lost another unnamed baby to a miscarriage so severe that she nearly died of bleeding that stopped only when her husband had her sit on ice), the monster was listed on the playbill as “––––––.”
“It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils,” Victor Frankenstein, a university student, says, pouring out his tale. The rain patters on the windowpane; a bleak light flickers from a dying candle. He looks at the “lifeless thing” at his feet, come to life: “I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.”
If that makes you want to read the novel again or for the first time (and it should), come to the Main library tomorrow for more as UGA takes part in Frankenreads, an international celebration of the 200th anniversary of the book with events happening across the globe. Associate professor of English Roxanne Eberle, who specializes in Romantic literature and teaches “Frankenstein” almost every year, will lead the public reading on Oct. 31. Why does the tale endure?
I think because it’s about our very deepest fears. Either we are monsters or maker of monsters. The creature is a very blank slate that your passions, terrors and fears can be written upon.
It’s also about technology out of control of the maker. A lot of science fiction explores this fear. We make something using our technology and it either becomes smarter than we are or we lose control of it.
The very best art keeps us looking inside of ourselves, but it's the rare tale that continues to live as this monster does. Well done, Mrs. Shelley. Join the Athens and UGA Halloween tradition all day tomorrow and of course, deep into the night.