Frankenstein: The Monster in the Library
Victor Frankenstein made the world’s most famous monster. He found body parts in operation rooms and graves, sewed them together, and charged his creation with new life, following scripts laid down by thinkers both ancient and new. Likewise, in creating Frankenstein, one of the most enduringly fascinating novels of the English language, Mary Shelley put together elements from gothic fiction, moral and political philosophy, romantic poetry, and science. What were the books that Victor Frankenstein drew upon for inspiration? What did his monster read to become part of human society? And what ideas animated Shelley’s act of creation? In this master class, we will discuss Shelley’s timeless book in the light of its historical context. This will mean thinking about the contents of both Victor’s and Mary’s libraries, from works of Renaissance magic, electrochemistry, and physiology to the poetry of Milton and Byron and tracts of revolutionary philosophy. Reading Frankenstein—born of the library as much as the laboratory—brings to life a crucial moment, after the French Revolution and at the start of the industrial age, while offering important perspectives on technology and science today. This class will also include a private tour of the Morgan’s exhibition It’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200.
John Tresch, until recently a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, holds the Mellon Chair in History of Art, Science and Folk Practice at the Warburg Institute, University of London. He studies the inter-related histories of science, anthropology, philosophy, and the arts. His book, The Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology after Napoleon, won the History of Science Society’s Pfizer Award for Outstanding Book in 2013. His next book, The Reason for the Darkness of the Night: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science, examines Poe’s technical obsessions in the light of the unruly culture of popular science in the early nineteenth century.