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The Monster’s Library exhibition

  • Washington University in St. Louis Olin Library (map)

This exhibit, The Monster’s Library, celebrates the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). Only 18 when she began the novel, Shelley recalled its genesis as a “waking dream” that occurred after her friend Lord Byron invited a small circle of friends, including her future husband Percy Shelley, to participate in a storytelling contest.

While Shelley powerfully describes the unbidden vision of the “pale student of unhallowed arts” that appeared to her in the night, it is clear that her work is also the result of years of serious and expansive reading. Shelley’s subsequent reference to her completed book as her “hideous progeny” invites us to see the parallels between her creative work and Victor Frankenstein’s.

Just as the creature’s body is made up of previously scattered parts, Shelley’s creation is a book made up of other books. To investigate the remarkable intertextuality of Shelley’s project, students in Frankenstein: Origins and Afterlives have identified three “Libraries” within the novel itself. The most literal of the three, “The Creature’s Library,” consists of the volumes that the abandoned creature finds in a satchel and uses to craft his humanity in the absence of his creator. “Victor Frankenstein’s Library” collects scientific and poetic works referenced by that creator, while “The Author’s Library” displays influential writings by Shelley’s family members and others. The discoveries our students present here are a reminder that libraries and special collections continue to be laboratories of innovative research today. 

Objects include books and original letters, a wax model brain on loan from the Becker Medical Library, and a rare original edition of the book featuring the famous frontspiece of the Creature and Dr. Frankenstein in his laboratory.