VISIT THE EXHIBIT: “The Miscreation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein”
TREASURE ROOM, DOHENY MEMORIAL LIBRARY
April 3, 2019, through August 16, 2019
Celebrating the bicentennial anniversary of Frankenstein’s publication, this exhibit will include illustrated versions of the novel, several representations of the many creations, re-creations, and miscreations of Frankenstein’s creature that followed the original, and examples of scientific and literary works that inspired Mary Shelley.
Two hundred years ago, on a dark and stormy night in Switzerland, a group of young English intellectuals challenged one another to invent a frightening story. Eighteen-year-old Mary Shelley—the daughter of political philosopher William Godwin and pioneering feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft—devised the most horrific tale, which in its many forms forever altered and continually haunts the landscape of literature and popular imagination. Considered among the first sci-fi stories in the form of a novel, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, documents the consequences of Victor Frankenstein’s quest to assemble from corpses and reanimate a creature of his own design. On display here are illustrated versions of the novel, several representations of the many new creations, re-creations, and miscreations of Frankenstein’s creature that followed the original, and examples of the scientific and literary works that inspired Shelley.
To celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of Frankenstein’s publication, the USC Libraries are partnering with Visions & Voices and schools across campus for a live, multimedia performance on April 4 at 7:30 p.m. on the front steps of Doheny Memorial Library.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, illustrated by Gustave Doré (New York: Harper & Bros., 1878)
Coleridge’s lengthy Romantic-era poem, first published in 1798, features prominently in Mary Shelley’s work, with Robert Walton and Victor Frankenstein quoting or referencing it. Both stories are set on ships sailing through frozen seas and offer a cautionary tale about the peril of disturbing the natural order.
Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound and Percy Shelley, Prometheus Unbound, illustrated by John Farleigh (New York: Limited Editions Club, 1965)
Mary Shelley subtitled Frankenstein “The Modern Prometheus,” tying Victor’s violation of the laws of nature to the Greek myth described by Aeschylus. Both Victor and Prometheus sought godlike powers of creation; both faced punishment for their misguided actions, with Victor experiencing the loss of all his loved ones and Prometheus facing perpetual physical torment. Mary’s husband, Percy, began writing his own version of the myth in 1818, the same year Frankenstein was published. The rhyming play Prometheus Unbound focuses on the events following Prometheus’s his release from captivity by Heracles.
Ovids Verwandlungen (Vienna: Alberti, 1791)
Roman poet Ovid wrote the epic narrative poem Metamorphoses (“Book of Transformations”) at the start of the Common Era. In it, he chronicles the history of the world through the lens of mythology, starting with the Creation and ending with Julius Caesar. Ovid’s masterpiece has inspired many great writers and artists over the millennia, including Dante, Chaucer, Titian, and Shakespeare. Mary Shelley was especially taken with the myth of Prometheus, a Titan who created man from clay and rebelled against Zeus by giving fire (i.e., civilization) to humanity.
Sir William Edward Parry, Journal of a Third Voyage for the Discovery of a Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific (London: John Murray, 1826)
Throughout the Age of Exploration, ships sailed to the corners of the Earth, seeking both scientific and commercial gain. The search for a “Northwest Passage” from the Atlantic to the Pacific inspired multiple expeditions, including the one seen here in 1824–1825, led by Captain William Parry aboard the two ships Hecla and Fury. Like Robert Walton’s trip to the far north in Frankenstein, Parry’s voyage was ultimately unsuccessful, and resulted in the wreck of the Fury.
John Milton, Paradise Lost: A Poem in Twelve Books (London, 1763)
Mary Shelley found inspiration in Milton’s epic poem about the biblical story of humanity’s creation, temptation, and eventual fall from grace. The epigraph she chose for the title page of Frankenstein is a quotation from Paradise Lost, and appears in Book X, lines 743–744 (shown here). It foretells the creature’s anguish at having been so irresponsibly brought to life by Victor. This eighteenth-century edition is illustrated by well-known English artist Francis Hayman, the first librarian of the Royal Academy.
This Tesla ooil created by USC Viterbi student Jack Eagan.
As part of the "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein Re-Animated" event on April 4, 2019, USC School of Architecture students Zhao Terry Yi and Xiachan Christine built this plexiglas model of Doheny Library's facade. Various liquids, inks and live worms were inserted into the model was filmed via time-lapse video to mimic the processes of entropy. This footage was then animated by USC alumna Zoey Lin and current USC animation student Ana Carolina Estarita for portions of the live projection-mapping event.
Martin Garrett, The British Library Writers’ Lives: Mary Shelley (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2002)
Seen on the left here is James Northcote’s painting of Mary’s father, William Godwin. She described the painting as “A striking likeness, characteristic, with an air of mildness and contemplation yet fervor.” On the right, John Opie’s 1797 portrait depicts a wistful Mary Wollstonecraft, pregnant with Mary and dressed in everyday attire, quietly signifying her refusal to don “feminine” adornment in favor of intellectual seriousness. James Heath’s engraving of this portrait appeared as the frontispiece to Godwin’s Memoirs of Wollstonecraft (1798).
Elbert Hubbard, Little Journeys to Homes of Great Lovers: William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, vol. 18, no. 2 (February 1906)
William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, two of the leading English political writers of the 1790s, called for radical social reform. Interestingly, their love affair began slowly; when they first met, they found they disagreed on nearly everything, but eventually, their passion and mutual admiration prevailed. Tragically, Mary died in 1797, ten days after giving birth. Godwin grieved the loss of his love profoundly and wrote Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, detailing Mary’s life and work.
William Godwin, The Elopement of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Boston, 1911)
Mary Godwin and the married Percy Shelley scandalously fled England for the continent in 1814, greatly angering Mary’s father William Godwin, who wrote a letter to the moneylender John Taylor describing the affair. William had a long history of fiscal mismanagement and seemingly hoped Taylor would pay him for the sordid details. This letter was reprinted in an edition of 200 copies for private distribution to members of the Bibliophile Society of Boston.
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (London, 1792)
Wollstonecraft penned A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792 in response to a French report recommending women only be allowed to receive a second-class “domestic education.” Wollstonecraft argued that women would be able to contribute to society if they were educated in a “rational” manner. Her work, considered one of the first writings of feminist philosophy, is dedicated to Talleyrand, the same French politician who made the earlier claim about women’s role in society.
Linda Bailey, Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein, illustrated by Júlia Sardà (New York: Tundra, 2018)
Illustrator Júlia Sardà and author Linda Bailey make Mary Shelley the central figure in a vibrant, playful retelling of Mary’s life story. Her fictional and personal worlds intertwine in Sardà’s beautifully illustrated cast of characters. The children’s book gives biographical and historical framing to the novel while calling attention to the woman at the center of it all.
Lynn Fulton, She Made a Monster, illustrated by Felicita Sala (New York: Knopf, 2018)
In June 1816, at the Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva in Switzerland, Lord Byron challenged his guests—Mary and Percy Shelley, John Polidori, and Claire Clairmont—to each come up with a scary story. Rome-based illustrator Sala conjures this group, gathered around the fire, spinning their spine-chilling tales. Young readers are introduced here to the Frankenstein origin story in this recent illustrated publication that also highlights Mary Shelley’s family and legacy.
Women of Words: A Personal Introduction of Thirty-Five Important Writers (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1994)
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born in London on August 30, 1797, to William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. At the age of sixteen, she began a relationship with the married poet Percy Shelley. She eventually gave birth to five of his children although only one survived to adulthood.Sadly, Percy died in a sailing accident in 1822, leaving her a widow at the age of twenty-four. While she wrote a few other stories, including Valperga and the apocalyptic novel The Last Man, Frankenstein remained her crowning achievement.
Mary Shelley, “The Trial of Love,” from The Keepsake (London, 1834)
The Keepsake was an illustrated anthology of poetry and prose, published annually in the fall between 1828 and 1857, and conceived of as a holiday gift. Mary published a short story in the 1834 issue, a loosely veiled recounting of the complicated romantic rivalry between Mary Shelley, her half-sister Claire Clairmont, and Percy Shelley. The main characters are Angeline (Mary), Faustina (Claire), and Ippolito (Percy). Mary includes in this short story other biographical details from her own life. The story’s author was identified as “The Author of Frankenstein.”
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus (London, 1818)
Given the radical content of the story, Mary and Percy Shelley decided that Frankenstein should be published anonymously—to allow the book to be judged by its own merits rather than having critics focus on Mary’s name, youth, and gender. Her name eventually appeared on the title page of the second edition in 1823. The first illustrated edition was published in 1831.
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, illustrated by Nino Carbe (Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1932)
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, illustrated by Lynd Ward (New York: Harrison Smith and Robert Haas, 1934)
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, illustrated by Berni Wrightson (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1983)
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, illustrated by Barry Moser (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1984)
Junji Ito, Frankenstein (San Francisco: Viz Media, 2018)
This adaptation by well-known manga artist/writer Junji Ito was intended as a promotional companion to Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. One significant departure from Shelley’s story is that when fashioning the monster’s companion, Victor Frankenstein uses the head of his family’s servant Justine, who had been wrongly executed for the death of Victor’s young brother William.
Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein (New York: Balzer + Bray, 2013)
Known for his lavish illustrated takes on macabre tales, Gris Grimly’s graphic novel uses portions of the original 1818 text alongside drawings that are by turns grotesque and surreal. His textured technique gives dramatic breadth to the alpine confrontation between Victor and his fiendish creation.
Christopher Frayling, Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years (London: Reel Art Press, 2017)
The first stage adaptation of the story was produced in London in 1823 under the title “Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein.” The role of the monster was played by actor T. P. Cooke, who would go on to reprise the role three years later in the Paris production Le Monstre et le Magicien. This illustration from the French script depicts the moment when the creature kills Victor’s brother William.
Promotional poster for “The Bride of Frankenstein” costume ball on October 26, 1985
Actor, recording star, and drag queen icon Divine performed regularly on stage as the Bride of Frankenstein for holidays like Halloween and New Year’s Eve. While in the novel Victor destroys the Bride before she is reanimated, Divine played off the character seen in the 1935 Universal Pictures production, giving the character more agency and presence, even choosing a “lucky groom” from the nightclub audience.
Film still from Frankenstein (Universal Pictures, 1931)
Boris Karloff’s portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster is easily the most recognizable iteration of the character, with his ghoulish green face, flat-topped head, and prominent neck bolts. The design was a collaboration between Karloff, director James Whale, and makeup artist Jack Pierce. The scene depicted here captures Karloff’s menace—he looms over Victor’s new bride Elizabeth, who has retired alone to the newlywed suite while Victor fruitlessly searches outside for the vengeful monster.
Raimundi Lulii maiorici philosophi acutissimi, mediciq celeberrimi . . . (Strasbourg, 1541)
In his youth, Victor Frankenstein was enamored with medieval alchemists like Paracelsus, Albertus Magnus, and Cornelius Agrippa—or as he put it, “the lords of my imagination.” Many of these early practitioners employed highly dubious means in pursuit of their occult goals, which included necromancy and life-extending elixirs. Raymond Lully was a 13th-century philosopher-scientist whose name was often mistakenly attached to works of an esoteric nature. At the university of Ingolstadt, Victor’s professors disabused him of his infatuation with pseudoscience.
Luigi Galvani, Opere edite ed inedite del professore Luigi Galvano . . . (Bologna: Emidio dall’Olmo, 1842)
Luigi Galvani (1737–1798) was an Italian scientist and polymath who discovered that nerves and muscles in animals are activated by electrical impulses. His early research into bioelectricity focused on frog’s legs, and how they twitched when exposed to an electrical current. Mary Shelley read Galvani’s research and hints in her novel that Victor Frankenstein employed electricity as part of the mysterious process by which he reanimated his creature.
Andreas Vesalius, Opera omnia anatomica & chirurgica (Leiden, 1725)
Considered the father of modern anatomy, physician Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564) compiled groundbreaking works of study on the human body, which Victor surely consulted during his own experiments. At the time, anatomy was still poorly understood and relied on the work of ancient Roman scholars like Galen, who believed bloodletting rebalanced the body’s “humors.” Vesalius dissected cadavers to research the body’s circulatory, muscular, nervous, skeletal, and vascular systems. He also determined the proper function of many of the body’s internal organs.
A selection of posters from the many Frankenstein films made since the start of the 20th century.