Reviving _Frankenstein_

February 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm (Uncategorized)

For the last several months, I’ve put the Frankenstein chapter of my dissertation on the back shelf; I completed a pretty decent draft, got very helpful feed back from my adviser, and moved on to chapters 2. 3, and 4.  Right now, though, that chapter’s taking on new life (and perhaps a life of its own?); I’m giving a lecture on Frankenstein for one of Rochester’s English grad colloquiums, so I’m negotiating the difficult process of trying to turn a dissertation chapter into a coherent and accessible talk.  As I work, I’ve been astounded by the new directions that I see the chapter taking; I’d initially neglected visual portraits of Mary Shelley in favor of verbal representation, and, when I initially wrote the chapter, I had not yet dipped into the intriguing genre of contemporary biography.  Both of these elements are adding wholly new dimensions to my chapter, and I hope that they will make for an interesting talk!

With this in mind, I’d wanted to mention a few of the more intriguing items that I found in my quest for new materials.  (I feel rather like Victor scavenging in a graveyard of buried Shelley’s, incidentally. . .)  The first is a portrait of Mary Shelley that was painted by Sarah Dolby in 2007 and displayed in the exhibit Art of Darkness.  I found it through the excellent Frankensteinia blog, which currently features a discussion of the Shelley’s Ghost exhibit at the Bodlean.  The portrait itself appears at left.  I’m particularly interested in the ways that this conceptualization of Shelley’s body is filtered through the lens of her text. Shelley herself appears as a monstrous specter; the portrait seems to serve as a memorial to the act of Shelley’s own literary memorialization.

I have one more image to share before I return to working on my talk itself. I stumbled upon an intrguing caricature that’s based upon two separate portraits of Shelley (the famous Rothwell Portrait and  another by Samuel John Strump, although the National Portrait Gallery’s website informs me that this portrait has been discredited).  Using both of these portraits as models, David Levine created a sketch which was published in The New York Review of Books in 1974.  I am again indebted to Frankensteinia for this information and the image itself. Levine’s sketch, which appears at right, connects the act of writing with a monstrous pregnancy which renders the author’s body the literal progenitor of the text.  I’m very much looking forward to hearing everyone’s reactions to this image on Thursday; I’d certainly been unfamiliar with it, and I imagine that I’m not the only one!

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