frankenstein-monster-statue-genevaStatue of Dr Frankenstein’s monster, Plainpalais (Geneva, 31st May 2015)

Almost as if to make up for the fact that until very recently there was no local official recognition of the Genevese background to the Frankenstein story (see photo above), on the occasion of the two-hundredth anniversary of the novel’s ‘birth’ in a mansion in the Genevese countryside during a stormy night in June 1816 a major exhibition on the cultural context of Mary Shelley’s work at Geneva’s ‘Book Temple’ (the Fondation Bodmer), a cycle of conferences exploring the story’s relevance to contemporary bioethics organised by a foundation concerned with the impact of medicine on man and society (the Fondation Brocher), a forthcoming colloquium at the University of Geneva’s Faculty of Letters (‘Frankenstein, le Démiurge des Lumières’ – ‘Frankenstein, demiurge of the Enlightenment’) were commissioned and either are still being held (until 9th October for the former) or are scheduled to take place later this year (early December for the academic colloquium). What is more, the small city of Vevey, located near the other end of Lake Léman, also organised an event in connection with the summer of 1816 to celebrate Lord Byron’s literary association with the most visited monument in French-speaking Switzerland, the castle of Chillon:

dscn1585Strangely for somebody who started to build a collection of books relating to Mary Shelley’s story as a university student (the novel was compulsory reading for first-year English literature students at my alma mater) and who many, many years ago even contemplated setting up a website* in honour of this novel which has held such a powerful a grip on the collective imagination since it was published nearly two hundred years ago (in 1818 and there were two other editions during Mary Shelley’s lifetime), so far I have not attended any of these Frankenstein-related events. In part because of a lack of time; in part because I have become a little wary of the ‘interpretational grid’ the exhibition at the Bodmeriana seems to be espousing – for instance, notice the allusions to very contemporary concerns here in Europe that have found their way in the issues allegedly raised by Frankenstein (climate change, the refugee crisis, etc.):

frankenstein-creation-of-darknessTo be straightforward, I also fear that the Bodmer exhibition may have dismissed non-traditional or overlooked source material for the genesis of Frankenstein, e.g. the Kabbalistic story of the Golem, ‘conspiracist’ views of the French Revolution (Mary Shelley’s husband had read Barruel’s Memoirs illustrating the history of Jacobinism after his expulsion from the University of Oxford**), the Frankist Movement*** as the most likely source for the ‘free love philosophy’ Lord Byron, the Shelleys and others in their entourage were either advocating or putting into practice, etc.

genevese-backgroundThe Genevese/Lake Léman background: a magnet for the Romantic writers

Of course, only a visit to ‘Frankenstein: Creation of Darkness’ will confirm or disprove my apprehension that this major exhibition will have failed to institutionalise ‘darker’ interpretations of Mary Shelley’s Gothic tale. However, I had better make up my mind fast about when to do so because I only have a few days left before the exhibition closes its doors and the manuscripts, first editions, paintings, et cætera are sent back to England or to other countries…



*I abandoned both the Frankensteinia book-collecting and the website project in 2001; as regards the latter, I had started with a bibliography of works on Frankenstein, available here (please note that the page might take a minute or two to download on to your computer as it is a version that was saved by the Internet Archive).

** Mary Shelley’s (at the time future) husband had read about Abbé Barruel’s claims regarding the French Revolution (page 63 of James Rieger’s The Mutiny Within: the Heresies of Percy Bysshe Shelley, New York, 1967):james-rieger-mutiny-within_p63*** Frankism and ‘Women’s lib’ [table of contents of ‘Women and the Messianic heresy of Sabbatai Zevi, 1666-1816’]