The Monster’s Reading List
What will we be reading at Washington University in St. Louis during the Frankenstein bicentennial? See below for some of our favorite picks.
Be sure to start with a good version of the 1818 novel. The Norton Critical Edition (ISBN 0393927938) contains the novel plus scholarly essays and historical material. The Oxford Frankenstein is an excellent and affordable print edition, but without the scholarly apparatus (ISBN 9780199537150). STEM readers might like the new edition by MIT press for scientists and engineers (ISBN 9780262533287). Finally, you can opt to download a free version at Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/41445).
Next, consider reading some of the texts out of which the novel is built. Victor Frankenstein, the Creature and Mary Shelley were all avid readers, and the text is littered with clues about their reading habits. Fans of English literature might like to check out John Milton, Paradise Lost (especially Book 4, lines 1-160 and 287-535). Those curious about British radicalism should explore Shelley's parents: William Godwin, Things as They Are; and Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Science types might enjoy a lecture by the chemist Humphry Davy titled "A Discourse Introductory to a Course of Lectures on Chemistry." Shelley knew Davy and may have modeled Victor Frankenstein on him. Curious about how Victor re-animated dead body parts? Read the gruesome accounts of galvanic experiments conducted on fresh corpses by physicians Andrew Ure and Giovanni Aldini between 1803 and 1818 (see John Aldini, General Views on the Application of Galvanism to Medical Purposes on GoogleBooks).
Want more? Check out Frankenstein's afterlives. A few suggestions to get you started:
- Read or view popular theatrical adaptation, from Richard Brinsley Peake's Presumption (1823) to Nick Dear's Frankenstein (2011).
- Watch early film versions, especially J. Searle Dawley's Edison Frankenstein (1910) and James Whale's Frankenstein (1931) with Boris Karloff.
- Consider investigating how the novel relates to otherness (racial, disabled, gay, gendered...). See, for instance, Elizabeth Young's Black Frankenstein: The Making of an American Metaphor. As long as we are on blackness, you might listen to St. Louis civil rights activist Dick Gregory retell the Frankenstein story in the 1970s or go view Glenn Ligon's powerful painting Study for Frankenstein #1 (1992) at the Saint Louis Art Museum. For the theoretically inclined, read Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto" and "The Promises of Monsters" in The Haraway Reader.
- Science types might like to pick up classic science fiction inspired by Shelley's novel, from H. G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World to Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park. Turn for historical guidance to Jon Turney's Frankenstein's Footsteps: Science, Genetics, and Popular Culture.
- Like poetry? Check out Margaret Atwood's Speeches for Doctor Frankenstein or Laurie Sheck's A Monster's Notes. Like experimental literature? See Shelley Jackson's hypertext Patchwork Girl (1995) or Victor LaValle's comic Destroyer (2017), which fuses Black Lives Matter with Frankenstein.
Still curious? Your librarian will be happy to help you keep exploring. Happy reading!
Associate Professor of History
Frankenstein Bicentennial Organizer