Frankenstein: A Cultural History
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Frankenstein: A Cultural History

by Susan Tyler Hitchcock
     
 

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A lively history of the Frankenstein myth, tracing its evolution from a Romantic nightmare to its prominence in today's imaginative landscape.Frankenstein began as the nightmare of an unwed teenage mother in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1816. At a time when the moral universe was shifting and advances in scientific knowledge promised humans dominion over that which had

Overview

A lively history of the Frankenstein myth, tracing its evolution from a Romantic nightmare to its prominence in today's imaginative landscape.Frankenstein began as the nightmare of an unwed teenage mother in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1816. At a time when the moral universe was shifting and advances in scientific knowledge promised humans dominion over that which had been God's alone, Mary Shelley envisioned a story of human presumption and its misbegotten consequences. Two centuries later, that story is still constantly retold and reinterpreted, from Halloween cartoons to ominous allusions in the public debate, capturing and conveying meaning central to our consciousness today and our concerns for tomorrow. From Victorian musical theater to Boris Karloff with neck bolts, to invocations at the President's Council on Bioethics, the monster and his myth have inspired everyone from cultural critics to comic book addicts. This is a lively and eclectic cultural history, illuminated with dozens of pictures and illustrations, and told with skill and humor. Susan Tyler Hitchcock uses film, literature, history, science, and even punk music to help us understand the meaning of this monster made by man.

Editorial Reviews

Louis Bayard
As Susan Tyler Hitchcock's delightful cultural history reminds us, the monster that Mary fashioned from her slumbers is still alive and kicking: "in our bookstores, on our film and television screens, from morning cartoons to wee-hours rerun movies. He plays roles in advertising and political debate, he appears at public library story hours and on graduate-level reading lists. He is both a joke and a profound ethical dilemma."
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Literary historian Hitchcock (Mad Mary Lamb: Lunacy and Murder in Literary London) leads readers on a guided tour of Frankensteinappearances in this colorful and consistently entertaining narrative. The history begins, appropriately, with the monster's unlikely creation by Mary Shelley as a result of a ghost story challenge (also taken up by John William Polidori, whose tale of a vampyre would later inspire Bram Stoker). Hitchcock then lays bare the publishing world of the 19th century, a veritable Wild West of unauthorized stage adaptations, parodies and continuations in which Frankensteinthrived. James Whale's Karloff classic gets its due, as do the disturbing and innovative 1910 Edison Company production and the 1952 live television broadcast starring a drunk Lon Chaney Jr. Running throughout the book is the parallel story of the invocation of Frankenstein in the public discourse as a metaphor for subjects ranging from the Crimean war to genetically modified organisms. While some Frankensteindilettantes might find the narrow focus of the book somewhat tedious, there are enough strange and delightful anecdotes to keep most readers engaged. B&w illus. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

The word Frankensteinconjures images and ideas ranging from the horrific to the comic. This iconic creature has appeared in novels, plays, films, comic books, and even political cartoons. Hitchcock (Mad Mary Lamb: Lunacy and Murder in Literary London) explores the evolution of this classic character from a young unwed mother's nightmare to Hollywood icon to an embodiment of the fears inherent in the technological age. She begins with a detailed biographical analysis of Mary Shelley's 1818 novel and follows with a descriptive study of the various incarnations the tale and its principles (both creator and monster) have taken on over nearly 200 years of cultural development. While she particularly emphasizes Boris Karloff's interpretation of the creature in the 1931 Universal film, her exploration is not limited to pop culture imagery; she also explores how the tale has become shorthand for describing various sociopolitical positions in the public debate. In this way, Hitchcock reveals how the universal themes of the novel have been embedded into our modern consciousness. The analysis is scholarly but presented in an engaging style that will appeal to any adult audience. Recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ6/1/07.]
—Shedrick Pittman-Hassett

Kirkus Reviews
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-academiclegacies: its ubiquity at Halloween. Cogent vivisection of a literary legend animated by the universal human fascination with the dark side. Agent: Jane Dystel/Dystel & Goderich Literary Management

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393061444
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
10/09/2007
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
767,239
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Susan Tyler Hitchcock’s last book was Mad Mary Lamb: Lunacy and Murder in Literary London. Married with two children, she lives near Charlottesville, Virginia.

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