Mary Shelley: Frankenstein at 200 — 4 November

A large audience testified both to Allan Phillipson’s popularity as a speaker and perhaps also to our perennial fascination with Mary Shelley’s iconic “creature.” Allan began by illustrating the phenomenon of the Gothic novel, a genre both horrific and salacious and one which would later be satirised, for example by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey.

We were reminded that Frankenstein, first published in 1818, begins and ends in a harsh landscape of ice and snow, illustrating the Romantic concept of ‘the sublime’ where the grandeur of the landscape takes us beyond ordinary experience. Of the 120 films of Frankenstein, perhaps only Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 version reflects this awe-inspiring atmosphere, and we were shown an extract, with Branagh as Victor Frankenstein scaling a cliff of ice to meet with his creation. In this film, Robert de Niro, as the creature, is shown as capable of thoughtful and philosophical conversation. Again, this is true to the novel, where, even in isolation, the ‘monster’ learns to read Milton, Plutarch and Goethe.

We learned about Shelley’s support for his wife’s work, and shown examples of his amendments to her manuscript – usually to its detriment, it has to be said!

In fact, Allan gave us a wealth of visual material to enjoy, with clips from several films, including the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein, where Elsa Lanchester plays both Mary Shelley in the prologue and then the eponymous Bride, rejecting the advances of Boris Karloff as the creature.

If Allan were a cook, we would say that he had produced for us a rich dish with many ingredients, something to savour, relish and remember.

Megan Jones

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