Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Frankenstein at 200 – Review of Making the Monster, The Science behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Katheryn Harkup

When we posted our Frankenstein inspired Story Sack features a few weeks ago we promised you a full review of Katheryn Harkup’s ‘Making the Monster, The Science behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’, and so here it is!

So firstly, this book does exactly what it says on the cover, and a more bedsides. Making the Monster is a non- fiction adult’s book that explores the sciences that Victor would have used to fashion his creation and history both social and Mary Shelley’s that went into the shaping of the book. Despite being an adult book, the book is accessible (for me a dyslexic who reads predominately children’s books, and who has not studied any science since the mid 1990’s, I both read and understood it without difficulty) so is definitely pitched at a level that older YA readers will be able to read and understand.

Making The Monster looks at the science that was known at the time and how Victor would have applied it to both construct and crucially to bring it to life. With this aim, Katheryn explores the history of science from the ancient times through alchemy to the life and times of Mary (and of course Victor), The Enlightenment. The Enlightenment being at time where great leaps in the understanding and the application of science, medicine and electricity took place, and when science was an everyday entertainment and subject of interest and conversation to the greater public. 

In addition to looking at the ‘nut’s and bolts’ of how the monster could have been made, Katheryn explores the science obsessed society in which Mary was surrounded, and the fascinating, eccentric, brilliant and often morally dubious real life figures that Katheryn poses as the influence of some of the books pivotal characters. The likes of John Hunter the famous surgeon, anatomist and dentist who pioneered may medical advances (many still used today) whose multi-faceted personality has said to have inspire, not only Frankenstein, but Jackal and Hyde, Doctor Doolittle, and Moby Dick.

But it is not just the science that makes the story of Making the Monster so fascinating, but the history, not only of science, and society at a whole, but of Mary herself and her unique, radical, and often uncontroversial upbringing. Kathryn begins the book, by exploring the lives of both Mary’s parents, Mary Wollstonecraft – writer, translator and pro-feminist and William Godwin a writer known for his radical views. Mary’s childhood, was one in which she was exposed to and immersed in the company of many of the great thinkers of the time, as many of her father friends would visit their home, which also doubled as a publishing house for her father and step-mother’s publishing business and bookshop meaning young Mary also had access to a wealth of texts. 

Making the Monster as part of our YA Frankenstein Story Sack

In the early chapters, Katheryn looks at how this unique upbringing helped shape Mary, and nurture her intelligence and creativity, it also looks at many of the family and her future husband’s (Percy Shelley) friends and acquaintances and how they also played strong parts in influencing the novel. Through reading these chapters of Mary own life experiences, Katheryn also explores the auto-biographical elements of Frankenstein, inspired by dreams of the reanimation of her recently deceased child, and of the aspects of both Percy’s personality and life that heavily influenced the character of victor.

Making the Monster, The Science behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, is a fascinating read, which would appeal to adults and YA readers who are interested in sciences, social histories or literature, as it brings a beautifully penned and accessible in-depth look at all the aspects that had to culminate for Mary to write the book. It is definitely worth investing the time to read this fascinating book.

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