Adventures in Reading

Frankenstein: A Cultural History by Susan Tyler Hitchcock

“‘He would have an enormous schwanzstucker!’”

While I do enjoy non-fiction, I have never been an avid reader and much of my blog will testify to my preference for fiction. However, trying to break my recent reading slump I turned to non-fiction and borrowed a copy of Frankenstein: A Cultural History by Susan Tyler Hitchcock. I have read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein only once in high school and found it dreadful though I am fascinated by early horror movies portraying Frankenstein’s monster. Hitchcock’s book is an illuminating history from page to screen to iconic archetype that will please any Frankenstein fan.

Hitchcock begins with the birth of Frankenstein by exploring the relationship of Mary and Percy Shelley as well as Lord Byron. These three people’s biographies are extraordinarily fascinating and outrageous. This was also my first opportunity to realize that the commonly sold Frankenstein is actually a revised version and I am now on a mission to borrow a version of the original 1818 story. I had given up on the idea of ever returning to Shelley’s work but the first third of this book has given me a great deal of motivation.

In the coming of age section, Hitchcock primarily focuses on the many, many film adaptations and spin-offs based on (some only in name) Shelley’s book. It goes a long way in explaining why Frankenstein is relatively such common nomenclature but so few people really have a grasp on the literary aspect of it. The movies (and censors) continued to reinvent Vincent and the monster for the modern audience.

The third part of the book, our monster, takes a particular look at the Frankenstein mania of the 70s ranging from Rocky Horror to Young Frankenstein to Dean Koontz’s recent Frankenstein series (the third book in this trilogy still with an unknown release date). If nothing else, Hitchcock’s wealth of information substantiates that the Frankenstein myth remains strong.

Hitchcock, a thorough writer and researcher, has provided an enticing portrayal of the evolution of Frankenstein. Frankenstein: A Cultural History that looks at the multiple interpretations that plagued Shelley’s creation over the years. A tale of moral ambiguity used to represent Hitler to comic book appearances has become an icon almost any small child within America can describe. My only warning: Hitchcock’s Frankenstein is not exactly light reading and has an academic taste to it, but excepting this word of caution it was an enjoyable read that has got my finger’s itching to try Mary Shelley’s prodigy once more.



It seems that the 1818 version is readily available from different publishers. Oxford University Press, for example, has an edition with the 1818 text. Anyway, it was good to learn that the common Frankenstein version is different from the 1818 text.

Comment by onlyanovel

[…] there is not nearly enough material out there on her! My Frankenstein information is limited to Susan Tyler Hitchcock’s Frankenstein: A Cultural History. However, for you film buffs there is some interesting tidbits from the 1935 filming of The Bride […]

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[…] I read the 1831 republication of the novel rather than the original 1818 version (which I am quite interested in reading too). While “the core and substance of it [is] untouched,” according to Shelley, section dividers have lapsed and some more aggressive plot points have been removed, or so I’ve read. […]

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