Dundee talk to trace the origins of Frankenstein
Published On Fri 9 Nov 2018 by Jonathan Watson
The literature that influenced one of history’s most famous novels is to be examined at the next meeting of Dundee Arts Café.
Dr Daniel Cook, a senior lecturer in English at the University of Dundee, will reveal how Frankenstein was shaped by the reading habits of its author, Mary Shelley, and how other books are integral to the plot of the gothic masterpiece.
Ahead of ‘Frankenstein: The Books That Made the Monster’, which takes place at 6pm on Tuesday 13 November at The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum, Dr Cook said, “Quite often we think of Frankenstein as a cultural myth rather than as a highly sophisticated piece of writing.In reality, Frankenstein is a book about books. Frankenstein’s monster is an attentive reader of the humanities, and that’s his problem. He reads Paradise Lost, the Bible, The Sorrows of Young Werther and learns of and copies mankind’s flaws.
“Victor Frankenstein is an inattentive reader of the sciences. He rejects the modern science of Humphry Davy and others, as he acknowledges as the book goes on. The plot unfolds because of how the two protagonists read and that is something that I want to talk about, proving that Frankenstein is more than just the story of a mad scientist that has created a monster.”
Later this month, Dr Cook, who specialises in 18th and 19th-century literature, will publish an edited and newly illustrated Dundee edition of Frankenstein, celebrating Mary Shelley’s ties with the city and the 200th anniversary of the original’s publication. This will be available, for free, in print and online through the University's Discovery portal.
Shelley spent around two years living in Dundee’s South Baffin Street as a teenager after her father William Godwin sent her to live with the wealthy jute baron Baxter family. A period of her life credited with helping to form her passion for writing, Shelley herself acknowledged that the “airy flights of my imagination, were born and fostered” throughout her time in the city.
Using diaries kept by Shelley and letters that she sent throughout her life, Dr Cook will discuss the author’s time in Dundee and highlight how her love of reading helped her to create one of literature’s most famous novels.
“Even people who have never read the book will have an awareness of it,” he added.
“As a researcher it is fascinating to hear people’s responses to reading Frankenstein for the first time. Whether they’ve read it as a teenager, at university, or later in life, everybody has an opinion about the novel. It’s also a story that has had many myths attached to it, whether it’s the misnaming of the Monster, or whether Frankenstein was a qualified doctor or chemist, and those myths have become a crucial part of the long afterlife of this iconic work.”
‘Frankenstein: The Books That Made the Monster’, will take place at 6pm on Tuesday 13 November in the McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum. The event is free and non-bookable but early arrival is advised.
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