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'Frankenstein' Turns 200 Years Old

New York Museum Celebrates Frankenstein at 200
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New York Museum Celebrates Frankenstein at 200

'Frankenstein' Turns 200 Years Old
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It has been called the first true work of science fiction and the first English horror novel.

The story has been told over and over again -- not just in books, but in movies and television shows.

"It’s alive! It's alive! It's alive!"

Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley, turned 200 years old in 2018!

To celebrate, New York City’s Morgan Library & Museum has a special exhibit on the writer and the book. The exhibit is set to continue through the end of January 2019.

The library’s John Bidwell explains why the book is still popular two centuries after it first appeared.

"All agree that Frankenstein is a classic of world literature. But unlike many classics, it can be interpreted, adapted, abridged, parodied in so many different ways. It's infinitely adaptable. And so that's why it's had such a strong and successful career for 200 years."

One reason for the success is that Doctor Frankenstein and his creature, the monster, live on in numerous remakes, shows, comic books, and even comedies.

Mary Shelley’s classic is one of the most famous horror stories of all time. But Frankenstein is so much more than that. It presents ideas, or themes, that are still important today.

Colin Bailey is director of the Morgan Library & Museum. He says the themes of Frankenstein are as important now as they were in 1818.

"...And it's a story that talks about science, about mortality, about morality, about kindness and compassion as well as violence and evil. So the themes are still very present to us."

Bailey also has this advice: Read the book before seeing the movie…any of them!

Shelley wrote the book when she was only 18 years old. And it relates to her own life in tragic ways.

"Her mother died 10 days after she gave birth to her. She knew what it meant to be a child without a mother.”

That is Elizabeth Campbell Denlinger. For the exhibit, she chose the materials that show Mary Shelley’s creative process and her monster.

Denlinger says it is no surprise that Shelley wrote a story about a motherless creature -- one that is very much alone in the world. You could say that is a page taken from the book of Shelley’s own life.

Losing her mother shortly after her birth in 1797 was only part of her life story. Mary Shelley gave birth to four children, but only one child survived to adulthood.

Around the age of 17, she began a love affair with the married poet Percy Shelley. The two writers married in 1816 after his wife killed herself. However, the marriage of Percy and Mary Shelley was short-lived. Her husband died in a sailing accident in 1822.

“She was still in her twenties when she became a widow. In some ways, it's not entirely surprising that she ended up with a story about a monster without a mother. But, um, it's one of the things that she and the creature have in common."

Critics say the fact that monster is motherless is actually very important. Many people mistakenly call the monster “Frankenstein.” Hollywood movie-makers have done well to mix up the two. However, literary experts say the fact that the monster remains nameless is important to the theme of Shelley’s book.

After the publication of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley continued to write. She died from brain cancer on February 1, 1851.

Her most important legacy is a monster that is still very much alive today.

I’m Anna Matteo.

This is the story you’ve heard about, talked about. The spine-tingling, blood-chilling story that stunned your emotions…Frankenstein! ‘Don’t touch that!’”

(from the 1931 movie trailer for “Frankenstein)

Elena Wolf reported this story for VOA News. Anna Matteo adapted it for Learning English. Her report includes additional information about Mary Shelley. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

fiction – n. written stories about people and events that are not real : literature that tells stories which are imagined by the writer

novel – n. a long written story usually about imaginary characters and events

classic – n. something that has been considered to be excellent for a long time

interpreted – v. to understand (something) in a specified way : to perform (something, such as a song or a role) in a way that shows your own thoughts and feelings about it

abridged – adj. shortened or condensed especially by the omission of words or passages

parody – v. to imitate (someone or something) in an amusing way

adaptable – adj. capable of changing or being changed to better suit a situation

mortality – n. the quality or state of being a person or thing that is alive and therefore certain to die : the quality or state of being mortal

compassion – n. a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.

widow – n. a woman who has lost her spouse or partner by death and usually has not remarried

legacy – n. something (as memories or knowledge) that comes from the past or a person of the past