Our next next meeting will be on Tuesday 21st of January at 7:30 pm in Harbury Village Library when we will discuss “Frankenstein; or the modern Prometheus” by Mary Shelley. At the previous meeting the following suggestions were made as to which book we should be reading:
- Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- The Call of the Wild by Jack London
- Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen
- Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell (Robert Noonan)
In choosing which book to read I went back to the three criteria we’d set previously:
- The book should have been published before 1950
- It should be less than 500 pages in a standard edition
- It should meet the definitions of a “classic book” proposed by Italo Calvino (see previous blog post)
“Wide Sargasso Sea” was first published in 1966, “The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists” runs to about 600 pages in standard editions, and “Death of the Heart” doesn’t meet the classic book definitions (see particularly no. 7).
Bearing in mind a suggestion that we should try to avoid just reading books by “dead white men”, the choice came down to “Mary Barton” or “Frankenstein”. Of these the one which best fulfils the aim of choosing books which we’d always intended to read, but never got round to, was “Frankenstein”. “Frankenstein” was first published in 1818, is about 200 pages long in most standard editions, and must be one of the books of which it is most commonly said, “Well, I’ve seen the film(s), but I’ve never read the book”.
Since our chosen book is relatively short, and our next meeting is nearly 2 1/2 months away, it was suggested that we should read a second, related, book. This seemed like a good idea to me. In finding a companion read I looked at the books which are said to have influenced Mary Shelley, and at the books claimed to have been influenced by “Frankenstein”.
Three literary sources are suggested as influences on Shelley: Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and in particular his retelling of the Prometheus myth; “Paradise Lost” by John Milton – the poem is quoted in “Frankenstein”; “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” by Mary Wollstonecraft”, Mary Shelley’s mother. None of these are a particularly easy read so I’m not suggesting any of these, although I’ll have a go at the Wollstonecraft myself.
Of the many books which may have been influenced by “Frankenstein”, the one mostly commonly cited is “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson. This is only a suggested read, but it’s short, not 90 pages in my copy, and can probably be finished in a single sitting.
There’s an interesting article in The Journal of Art in Society about the connections between “Frankenstein” and “Jekyll and Hyde”, on the the links between the Shelley and Stevenson families, and on the different scientific and philosophical ideas which were current at the time each book was being written.