Photo credits to Russell Shannon
For a few more days only, an exhibit celebrating the 200th anniversary of the seminal novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, is on display at The Morgan Library in New York City (to be followed by an equally notable and massive exhibit dedicated to the artwork of JRR Tolkein, but that’s another story).
Inspired by numerous social media postings from friends in comics and other forms of pop culture media, I finally made my way to the Morgan Library to check it out. As a former English Major, it seemed obligatory to take in a show that boasted a number of original documents on display, including handwritten pages from MWS’s manuscript of the novel. I also knew from social media posts that comics would receive their due as part of the massive Frankenstein tradition that we all inhabit.
What I found at It’s Alive, Frankenstein at 200 was what I expected in terms of TV, film, and comics tradition, which is to say I was happy with the attention those forms of media received. Having been to the Museum of Pop Culture out in Seattle, particularly their horror exhibit, I hoped for the same kind of exposition for attendees, explaining just how enormously influential Frankenstein became through visual media. And that our perceptions now are largely shaped by the 1931 film masterpiece.
But regarding the first half of the exhibit and more–that dealt with the early history of Frankenstein as a concept and a novel from MWS, I was absolutely bowled over. It is by far the most exhaustive introduction to the history of alchemy, early scientific endeavor, and more, that I have ever seen brought together in one room. Beyond that, the exhibit delves into MWS’s complicated familial and social life as directly as possible, and while there isn’t space for the show to get into great detail, it does highlight just what a tangle of conflicting family pressures both Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley faced, adding a lot of oppression to their lives. But this was the situation that gave rise to one of literature’s–and pop culture’s– most influential concepts.
If you want to appreciate how Frankenstein came about in an authentic way that helps you wade through the hype, don’t miss out on this exhibition, which runs until January 27th, 2019.
If it’s not possible to attend the exhibition, you might want to consider buying the hardback exhibition guide from the Morgan Library’s website, since a cursory glance showed that it contains virtually every single object in the exhibition photographed and the accompanying text is replicated from the exhibits also. You’ll find that here.
Check out a selective photogallery from the event: