Frankenstein: A tale for our times?

Frankenstein cover © Wordsworth Classics

Like Victor Frankenstein, I toiled for many months over my creation (although thankfully mine didn’t involve any corpses). Unlike Victor I had no need to “turn with loathing from my occupation”, although I was “urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased”.My creation, my undergraduate dissertation on Mary Shelley’s novel did indeed occupy me and when I submitted it I felt somewhat bereft, as did the author when handing her manuscript to the publisher  “for I have developed an affection for it”.

Next month the National Theatre Live programme will again broadcast Danny Boyle’s adaptation  of Frankenstein. What’s unusual is that last year the NT Live programme beamed the production live into cinemas around the country and such was the demand that it’s being shown again.

I went to the screening last year and was reminded just how much this novel became part of my life for a period of time and what an astoundingly great piece of literature it is.

What is the enduring fascination with the first novel of an 18 year old girl, written almost two centuries ago? Do the multiple themes addressed in the novel have resonance today? Certainly there are questions of moral, social and scientific significance which humankind has always posed itself and which resonate across almost two centuries.

Mary Shelley’s novel has been a persisting cultural phenomenon. The book spawned the genre of horror films, has had multiple incarnations of its own in books, film and theatre – and its title merits an entry in the dictionary.

Danny Boyle’s production was – excluding one or two minor amendments – faithful to the original text and left me entranced to see Mary Shelley’s work literally brought to life. An interview with both Danny Boyle and Nick Dear prior to the screening had me almost punching the air in jubilation that at last someone ‘got’ the multiple themes addressed by Shelley.

Her story resonates with themes which form a backdrop to modern life and which I think account for its current resurgence: genetic engineering, cloning, scientific research and debates concerning human power over life and death. Add to this Shelley’s own personal and philosophical influences and it’s not hard to see how this story has endured.

If you can’t see the production on stage or screen, read the book – you won’t be disappointed. My well-thumbed copy is about to get another airing.  Will I go again to the NT Live screening?  You bet!

Published in The Sussex Newspaper online June 2012


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