A thoroughly entertaining look at the iconic monster.
How did the unwed, 18-year-old mother of a toddler come to invent this nightmare creature with neck bolts, flattop head and that power unibrow? Hitchcock (Mad Mary Lamb: Lunacy and Murder in Literary London, 2005, etc.) suggests that Mary Shelley, soul mate of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, daughter of radical philosopher William Godwin and pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, had heard about ghoulish experiments with electricity on corpses of criminals, which momentarily seemed to twitch back to life. She may also have drawn inspiration from her own life-altering trauma in 1815—the year before she thought of Frankenstein’s monster—when her first baby died after less then a month. Hitchcock fondly details how a novel prompted by a summer of reading ghost stories in Geneva has imbedded itself in popular culture. Frankenstein inspired hundreds of stage productions before the classic 1931 film and the not-so-classic ’60s TV series The Munsters, Young Frankenstein and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The author smoothly charts the monster’s transformation from cosmic and creepy to comic and campy, alongside Shelley’s slow evolution from overlooked to appreciated novelist. One memorable section details how Boris Karloff’s daughter Sara successfully sued Universal Studios for licensing products with his likeness on them; Hitchcock slyly notes that the monster once again broke free from its creator. In addition to selling 50,000 copies a year in America alone, Frankenstein lives on as a reference point in public discussions of genetic engineering and cloning. But the author doesn’t neglect one of the monster’s most enduring non-academic legacies: its ubiquity at Halloween.
Cogent vivisection of a literary legend animated by the universal human fascination with the dark side.