Friday, February 18, 2011

The Story of the Monster

The story of how Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was conceived has always interested me.  Long story short, Mary Shelley who was very young and educated, but unpublished, was with her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their friend, Lord Byron, who were both poets of differing degrees of fame.  They decided to try to write scary stories, and then share them with each other in a sort of friendly contest.  Although no one expected it, one of the best known stories of all time was born of that challenge.  What those who have not read Mary Shelley's novel generally don't realize is that it is the doctor who creates the monster who is named Frankenstein, rather than the monster himself.

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd was written almost two centuries later, but overlaps Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and tells the story from the perspective of history and Dr. Frankenstein.  In Casebook, true biographical events are woven into the story, such as Percy's first marriage, and the night on which the more famous Frankenstein was written.  The standard English class question of "who is the real monster?" is the primary theme of this novel, with the subtle suggestion that, at least as far as Percy's first wife was concerned, the real monster may have unwittingly been Mary Shelley. 

Casebook was a NYT Notable book for 2009, and the more thorough NYT review is here.

Next up:  Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Still listening to:  Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

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