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200 years of 'Frankenstein': Creighton celebrates bicentennial of Mary Shelley masterwork

One wonders if Mary Shelley had any notion of the long afterlife her novel, Frankenstein, would enjoy.

Published 200 years ago, the gothic tale of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist, and his perspicacious—if occasionally murderous—creature has been told and retold in media ranging from the stage to the comics to the screen, giving the story tragic, political, romantic, and even comic overtones. Oct. 23 through 31, Creighton University will join with cultural and higher educational institutions around the globe in celebrating Shelley’s novel and all it has wrought in the cultural consciousness for two centuries.

Frankenstein is such an important text that has been subject to so many different iterations in two centuries,” said Matthew Reznicek, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of English and a specialist in 19th century British literature who often teaches Shelly’s novel. “From literature to pop culture to movies, scholars of almost every discipline have something to say about it.”

Toward that end, Frankenweek — as the celebration has been dubbed — will feature lectures and panel discussions with experts in fields ranging from bioethics to history to physics to women’s studies to philosophy. A film festival of select titles based on Frankenstein, and a screening of the Mel Brooks’ comedy Young Frankenstein will also highlight the novel’s esteemed cinematic history.

Frankenweek’s wide spectrum of events makes it a good fit as Creighton inaugurates the Kingfisher Institute for the Liberal Arts and Professions this year. Dean Bridget Keegan, PhD, of the College of Arts and Sciences and also a specialist in 19th century British literature who has taught Shelley’s novel, said the Frankenstein bicentennial provides a platform for the Institute to gain wide exposure across the University and the community.

“We see it as a way to bring more students, more faculty, more staff into what’s happening with the Kingfisher Institute,” Keegan said. “Touching on as many different disciplines as this text does, it’s creating a wide discourse for many voices to join. That’s our hope for the Kingfisher Institute, that we can start these conversations and explore those connections.”

Set in the latter moments of the 18th century Enlightenment and published as the Romantic era was approaching its fullest expression, Frankenstein is dealing with science and politics in ways that scholars are still contending today.

“At the time she’s writing, there is this interest in how science might create life and we see this debate in medical circles about revivification drawing on the Enlightenment questions of what makes the body function,” Reznicek said. “We’re also seeing the aftermath of the French Revolution and ideas not just about the physical body, but about the body politic, the social body. The creature, revivified and learning to read by looking at the works of Rousseau, comes to embody a lot of that conversation.”

The novel’s author, Mary Shelley, was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, leading lights of British intelligentsia and philosophers and novelists in their own right. Wollstonecraft was the author of Vindication of the Rights of Woman, one of the earliest treatises on feminism.

Shelley married one of Romanticism’s titans, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and continued moving in literary circles all her life. As a female novelist, scholars have undertaken numerous studies on the voices of women in her work, notably the drastic silencing of women’s voices in Frankenstein.

“Mary Shelley is a fascinating figure in Western intellectual history and many scholars have taken up this question of why this is Victor Frankenstein’s journal and why women are always on the sidelines,” Keegan said. “We even see Frankenstein usurp this maternal role and women are pushed even further out, even out of the procreation role. I think there will be some great conversation about that during the week.”

Frankenweek begins with a series of 60-Second Lectures themed on “Other ‘Monsters’: Shelley, Frankenstein, and Feminism,” on Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. in Room 3023 at the Harper Center. The Frankenstein Film Fest will be held Oct. 28 from noon to 6 p.m., in the Hixson-Lied Science Building, Room G04. A read-a-thon of the novel will take place at the Skutt Student Center Fireplace from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 31.


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