“Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful.” – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
From the shadows of a young woman’s mind, a monster was born. Created by a crazed scientist from dead bodies and given life through a twisted scientific process, he crawled off the page and into the minds of millions. His story has been retold across virtually every medium, and his face has become one of the most recognizable images in the history of popular culture.
He is Frankenstein’s monster, and 2018 marks 200 years since Mary Shelley published his dark story and captured the world’s imagination.
To commemorate this anniversary, organizations throughout the Wheeling area are hosting educational programs to explore the cultural, scientific and historical significance of Frankenstein.
My Name … Is Frankenstein!
One common misconception about this famous monster is his name. While many people believe the huge, green-skinned creature with bolts in his neck is Frankenstein, that name belongs to his creator. This image of the monster and his mistaken identity is largely born from the 1931 Universal Studios film starring Boris Karloff as the iconic creature, lurching out of the shadows and into Halloween imagery for several generations.
“Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein is the monster most people see,” West Liberty University professor Dr. Angela Rehbein said. In April, she was one of several faculty members who delivered a series of lectures regarding this gothic story. While her lecture focused on the history of the novel and its influences, Dr. Aaron Harper spoke about the philosophy of isolation prevalent throughout the story, and Dr. Matt Zdilla discussed the study of anatomy through cadaver dissection. The reaction from their modern students closely mirrored that of Victorian readers 200 years ago.
A Cautionary Tale
“The students were really taken aback by it,” Rehbein said. “The subject matter addressed how literature converses with science and made them aware of the wider culture, the politics and sciences that affected Mary Shelley and this story.
“This is a 100 percent gothic novel,” Rehbein said. “It uses dark themes with the intention to comment on society.”
For example, Rehbein said Frankenstein deals with the failures of societies to care for others, especially those who are different. This is evident in the scientist’s rejection of his creature, which ultimately leads to its murderous quest for vengeance. Other underlying themes, Rehbein said, include an indictment against irresponsible exploration and the anxiety of reproduction and maternity born from Shelley’s own troubled life.
“This story is not just meant to titillate and scare us, but to make us look at society,” Rehbein said.
The Hilltop will be hosting a Frankenstein film festival on Oct. 28-30 at the Elbin Auditorium in College Hall. Beginning at 6 p.m. each night, the series will feature a screening of a film adaptation of “Frankenstein” with WLU Professor Chris Lee giving a presentation on the historical and cultural contexts for the film. The Oct. 28 film showing is the 1931 classic “Frankenstein” starring Boris Karloff, with Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” starring Gene Wilder playing on Oct. 29. The series will conclude with the 1994 version of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” starring Kenneth Branagh on Oct. 30.
New Adventures for an Old Fiend
From the pages of dark volumes and black-and-white classics to the bright pages of comics, Frankenstein’s story also lurks within the comic book realm as WLU’s Dr. Waller Hastings explained.
“It’s a very recognizable creature,” Hastings said. “People who never read the book or saw the movie still recognize that creature.”
Hosting a special exhibit of Frankenstein comic books at the Elbin Library at WLU through the end of the month, Hastings said that the ghoulish creature’s adventures usually start with the basic concept of the monster and build on it. While some remain close adaptations of the gothic classic, Hastings said the monster’s comic book exploits have led him to some unexpected places. Within those panels, he has become a mob enforcer, a mayoral candidate and even a mentor for Mary Shelley herself
The True Genius Behind the Monster
The life of Mary Shelley is as troubled and shrouded in legend as the tale of her hulking monster. She was plagued with debt, ostracism, death, depression, heartbreak and illness but she had an incredibly active imagination. What began as a friendly contest in a parlor with friends Lord Byron, John Williams Polidori and her lover Percy Shelley, eventually became a world-changing story. Influences included experimental science of the time, the Romantic movement in art and Germanic ghost stories.
To learn the details of Mary Shelley’s life from her own mouth, a rare opportunity awaits at the Ohio County Public Library’s Lunch With Books program at noon on Tuesday, Oct. 30. Living historian Susan Marie Frontczak will perform an in-character monologue followed by an in-character Q&A and a Q&A session as a historian.
“She is excellent,” Ohio County Library representative Sean Duffy said. “She is something of a scientist herself, and she does her portrayal with a focus on science and ethics.”
Frontczak, Duffy said, is one of only two Mary Shelley living historians in the United States and is coming from Colorado to give this presentation. Agreeing with Rehbein regarding the vast differences between book Frankenstein and pop culture Frankenstein, Duffy said this program will offer an enriching experience.
“The fact that (Shelley) started writing this story at age 18 is amazing,” Duffy said. “Her life is just a really interesting story. We look forward to it.”
- 5 p.m., Oct. 25 — Book discussion at the Brooke County Public Library.
- 6 p.m., Oct. 28 — The original film adaptation of Frankenstein (1931), starring Boris Karloff, Elbin Auditorium, College Hall, West Liberty University
- 6 p.m., Oct. 29 — Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1974), starring Gene Wilder, Elbin Auditorium, College Hall, West Liberty University
- 6 p.m., Oct. 30 — Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), starring Kenneth Branagh, Elbin Auditorium, College Hall, West Liberty University
- Through Oct. 31 — Elbin Library, West Liberty University, Special exhibit of comic book/graphic novel adaptations of Frankenstein
- Noon, Oct. 30 — Mary Shelley Living History presentation at the Ohio County Public Library Lunch with Books program.
• Born and raised in the Ohio Valley, Daniel Dorsch brings a rich background of research and writing to Weelunk. He studied at West Virginia University and Duquesne University and has worked as a historian, a journalist and a marketing communications expert. Daniel’s personal philosophy is that every person and every place has a story to tell, and he makes it his mission as a wordsmith to help tell them. Daniel lives in Weirton with his wife and son.