On Halloween day, SDSU’s library celebrated the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The event included tricks and treats: cake, candy, and a display of Frankenstein related works. The highlight of the celebration was a viewing of James Whale’s 1931 film adaptation of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus (1818), the world’s first science fiction text. Shelley was only twenty-one years-old when she published this iconic work according to the discussion led by SDSU librarian Linda Salem and Mary Galbraith, a children’s literature instructor in the university’s English department. They went on to explain that the author was the daughter of philosopher William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft who died just days after Mary Shelley’s birth. The author’s tumultuous childhood which involved living with demanding foster parents, continued to be quite trying after she eloped at seventeen years old. According to Linda Salem, “Mary Shelley gave birth to five children, but only one survived.”
Linda Salem also talked about the legacy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: “One of the most discussed motifs of the novel is Otherness.” The novel has been referred to in countless essays about race, gender, and class. It has also been nested in the center of discussions about identity formation. This would explain the impressive number of children’s and young adult texts that reimagine the story in order to encourage empathy for Frankenstein-like characters who fall into the category of the Other. Go to Sleep, Little Creep written by David Quinn and illustrated by Ashley Spires plays around with language as the reader helps to say goodnight to little monsters above and below water. The cover features a Madam Frankenstein chasing a baby Frankenstein in a pajama singlet. The simplistic rhymes offer up snippets of moral ideas mixed in with familiar family rituals associated with bedtime fun. A Valentine for Frankenstein written by Leslie Kimmelman and illustrated by Timothy Banks, reimagines Frankenstein as a young monster that other little monsters make fun of. While we can relate to wanting to fit in, “. . . Frankenstein was comfortable in his own green skin.” Lynn Fulton’s She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein, illustrated by Felicita Sala, tells the story of how Mary Shelley came to create her timeless classic: “Mary thought back through her life to the eerie things she had seen in her childhood and the losses she had suffered, particularly her mother, who was the type of writer Mary aspired to be.” The significance of the motifs in Mary Shelley’s works shows in the variety of ways in which the stories are reimagined and in the discussions about her life and work. Her own isolation and alienation as a source of inspiration for this timeless piece solidified her credibility for readers familiar with social rejection for a plethora of audiences.
Released around the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is Kiersten White’s The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. According to the Kirkus Review, “White’s (Bright We Burn, 2018, etc.) timely retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is told from the point of view of 17-year-old Elizabeth Lavenza, ward of the Frankensteins and caretaker of Victor Frankenstein.” At the novel’s core is a familiar monster/human binary familiar to Shelley’s own life.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s work lives 200 years after its birth for the same reasons that it was created: Otherness, alienation, and isolation. According to Mary Galbraith, “Mary Shelley called Frankenstein her “hideous progeny” and Shelley herself is both woman and child which is ironic.” She went on to say, “The book and the movie, mostly the book, are prophetic; [Mary Shelley] is the only person who could have written the book.”