The Lady and Her Monsters
- Ratzan, Richard M.
- Date of entry: Jun-10-2016
The Lady and Her Monsters is a companion monograph of literary, cultural and scientific history to Frankenstein , the masterpiece written by a 20 year old Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (hereafter MWS). Starting, in its prologue, with late 18th Century Italian anatomists, it proceeds chronologically to add layers to the foundation on which MWS built her novel. Although many of these events and stories (grave-robbing, resurrectionists, infamous criminals like Burke and Hare, the setting of the composition of the novel in Switzerland) are well known to students of Frankenstein, the author adds less well known details and narrative flourish, ending with the 1831 edition and the remainder of Mary Shelley’s life following the death of her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley (hereafter PBS).
The book begins with a prologue describing, narratively, the most proximate scientific influences on Mary Shelley. The experiments of Aldini and his nephew Galvani form a significant portion of the backdrop for Shelley’s famous literary experiment approximately 30 years later, as famous for its product as it is for its lack of description of materials and methods.
Summary of chapters 1 through 9:
Chapter 1: “The Spark of Life”: biographical information about William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft and the early years of MWS
Chapter 2: “Waking the Dead”: a return, with more detail, to late 18th C Italian anatomists and scientists using electricity to stimulate dead animals and their tissues: Vesalius, Galvani, Volta, Aldini
Chapter 3: “Making Monsters”: more on Aldini and the rise of resurrectionists in late 18th C and early 19th C England
Chapter 4: “A Meeting of Two Minds”: Paracelsus and Agrippa as antecedent scientists of interest to PBS and MWS; the couple’s romance
Chapter 5: “Eloping to the Mainland”: the famous story of the trip of the Shelleys, Byron, and Polidori to Castle Frankenstein in Switzerland
Chapter 6: “My Hideous Progeny”: more on the literary history behind the creation of Frankenstein and the continuing soap opera of the lives of the Shelleys, Polidori, Claire Claremont and Lord Byron
Chapter 7: “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus”: suicide of Fanny Imlay (half-sister of MWS), marriage of Shelleys, publication of Frankenstein
Chapter 8: “The Anatomy Act”: more 19th C body snatching; Burke and Hare; and the passage of the Anatomy Act of 1832 in the U. K., controlling the supply of bodies to anatomy labs
Chapter 9: “A Sea Change”: death of PBS and Lord Byron
Epilogue: modern day (2004) grave-robbing; remainder of MWS’s life
Following the epilogue are notes to the chapters, a bibliography and index.
New York, NY