'Frankenstein' at 200: Scholars to explore why 19th-century novel still resonates

'Frankenstein' at 200: Scholars to explore why 19th-century novel still resonates

Contemporary representations of Frankenstein's monster can often be traced back to Boris Karloff's portrayal in the 1931 film, "Frankenstein."
Contemporary representations of Frankenstein's monster can often be traced back to Boris Karloff's portrayal in the 1931 film "Frankenstein."

Beginning as a horror story for its time, a 19th-century creation has become engrained in 21st-century culture.

Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is 200 years old this year and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s 19th Century Studies Program is bringing four scholars together to explore why and how this famous gothic novel still resonates. The multimedia presentation, “Celebrating Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, 200 Years Later,” is 4 p.m. Nov. 2 in Andrews Hall, Room 117.

All monsters are embodiments of their cultural moment, and Victor Frankenstein’s creature is definitely a representation of early nineteenth-century fears, said Peter J. Capuano, associate professor of English and director of the program, but Shelley’s monster and the story of its creation still fascinate the collective imagination — showing up everywhere from the silver screen to the cereal aisle.

“Frankenstein is one of the rare texts that has passed from the literary world to common myth,” Capuano said. “It has seeped into nearly every aspect of our public consciousness—and often without our explicit acknowledgment.

“Most people don’t know that when they say, ‘I’ve created a monster here’ or ‘You’ve created a monster in this situation,’ they’re drawing from the novel. It’s crept into our cultural lexicon.”

The presentation will delve into many facets of Frankenstein’s staying power. It will consist of four flash talks by Nebraska scholars, followed by an audience discussion. The flash talks will explore the relevance of the novel throughout history and its contemporary appeal; the many retellings on the screen; its legacy as a springboard for science fiction; and how the hands of Frankenstein caused tragedy and how that has been interpreted by some as a warning against overreach of all kinds.

“People see this as a classic text of overreaching,” Capuano said. “Shelley writes of Victor Frankenstein’s work with his own profane fingers, and I think it’s no mistake that the creature kills through strangulation.

“The notion of Frankenstein’s hubris has been variously brought up in many debates, especially concerning any technology that can overrun its human creators.”

The flash talks are “Teaching Frankenstein in 2018” by Steve Behrendt, George Holmes Distinguished Professor of English; “Frankenstein in the Cinema: A Tale Untold” by Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies; “‘A Dreary Night of November’: The Process of Creation in Frankenstein” by Michael Page, lecturer in English; and “Shifting from Gaze to Grasp: Frankenstein and the Monstrous Grip” by Capuano.