I have two favorite books by the smoking hot, Mary Shelley— both of them speak to our time louder and with more clarity today than when they were first published back in the dawning of the age of steam engines, electricity, and gothic horror.
I won’t discuss Mrs. Shelley’s The Last Man, which is the nineteenth century novel set in the twenty-first century, about the lone survivor in a world decimated by plague. Nuff said.
I’ll talk, instead, about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, where the Creature, whose name popular culture often mistakes for the title, is reading and quoting Plutarch, Rousseau, Goethe, Milton, and others, by his first birthday. And, yes, he’s different than in the Boris Karloff movie, where the creature is a monster who can say little more than,”Argh!” And that’s because Hollywood, not unlike Dr. Victor Frankenstein, cuts the heart out of most great works of literary art, leaving us no more than a shadow of their former truths. But we’ll leave that discussion for a time when technology has pushed us farther into darkness than a bad allegory for creation.
Mary Shelley set the nineteenth century ablaze with a delicious feast worthy of the mythological gods that inspired its genre-defining work about a modern-day Prometheus, that’s still being discussed and dissected today. And that’s what good works of art do— they work. And whether you are reading it in quarantine for the first time or the ninety-ninth, you should also probably bone-up on your Milton and your Ovid. And afterwards, it’s fun to read your GB Shaw, who was under the influence of Shelley (and others mentioned) when he wrote his fair lady, Pygmalion…because you have time.
Also, if you hurry, you can catch a brilliant adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, starring Benjamin Cumberbatch and Johnny Miller on the National Theatre Live YouTube Channel. They are rerunning their 2011 sold-out smash hit Frankenstein, written and adapted by Nick Dear, and directed by Danny Boyle. It’s a master class in performance art, and closer to the book than the Boris Karloff version…but not as funny as the Mel Brooks.
Click on the link below to hear me read (from quarantine) one of my favorite passages from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.