Frankenstein Commemoration

Nov. 7, 2018

It was on a dreary night of November that Professor of English Susan Wolfson beheld the accomplishment of her toils. On the nights of Oct. 31, Nov. 1, and Nov. 2, Princeton University hosted a reading of Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel Frankenstein, which is celebrating its bicentennial this year. Each night was dedicated to one volume of the novel. This event, presented by Princeton’s English Department and Humanities Council, belonged to the worldwide Frankenreads initiative organized by the Keats-Shelley Association of America. Professor Wolfson, who co-edited The Annotated Frankenstein (Harvard, 2012), obtained a David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Project Grant to fund the three-day Frankenstein reading.

First published in 1818 when Shelley was only twenty, Frankenstein has never gone out of print, and the crowd in the Chancellor Green Rotunda on Halloween night testified to the novel’s enduring appeal. In her prefatory remarks, Professor Wolfson mentioned Frank Bruni’s Oct. 30 New York Times opinion piece “The Internet Will Be the Death of Us.” Bruni argues that two hundred years before the current debate over the Internet’s ability to magnify prejudice and hate, Shelley suggested in Frankenstein that “[t]echnology has always been a coin with two sides: potential and peril.” Widely considered the first work of modern science fiction, Frankenstein tells the story of an overambitious scientist whose project to create life produces a hideous monster. Frankenstein immediately abandons the creature, who becomes vengeful and sets out to destroy his creator’s loved ones.

Over the course of four hours, Princeton students, faculty, and community members (including one dressed as Albert Einstein) mounted the podium to read their assigned passages from the 1818 edition. The readings began at 7:00 pm and ended at 10:30, with a 30-minute intermission during which attendees could view Thomas Edison’s 1910 cinematic adaptation of Frankenstein. This twelve-minute silent film was the first of (to date) about thirty films based on the novel.

Last week’s readings were just the beginning of Princeton’s commemoration of Frankenstein’s bicentennial. On Wednesday, Nov. 7, there will be a roundtable discussion on “Frankenstein’s Progeny, Science and Culture,” featuring Professor Wolfson, Gunnar Rice ’17, Professor Emerita Joyce Carol Oates, and Madeleine Broome ’19, with Professor Peter Singer as respondent. On Thursday, Nov. 8, Professor Wolfson will deliver a lecture entitled “Frankenstein, Frankenstein, and the Dream of Science.” Finally, on March 27 of next year, Professor Wolfson, John Bugg *09, and Visiting Professor Adam Potkay will hold a panel on “Frankenstein, Ethics, and Teaching across the Disciplines.”