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Frankenstein: A Cultural History Hardcover – October 17, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Literary historian Hitchcock (Mad Mary Lamb: Lunacy and Murder in Literary London) leads readers on a guided tour of Frankenstein appearances in this colorful and consistently entertaining narrative. The history begins, appropriately, with the monster's unlikely creation by Mary Shelley as a result of a ghost story challenge (also taken up by John William Polidori, whose tale of a vampyre would later inspire Bram Stoker). Hitchcock then lays bare the publishing world of the 19th century, a veritable Wild West of unauthorized stage adaptations, parodies and continuations in which Frankenstein thrived. James Whale's Karloff classic gets its due, as do the disturbing and innovative 1910 Edison Company production and the 1952 live television broadcast starring a drunk Lon Chaney Jr. Running throughout the book is the parallel story of the invocation of Frankenstein in the public discourse as a metaphor for subjects ranging from the Crimean war to genetically modified organisms. While some Frankenstein dilettantes might find the narrow focus of the book somewhat tedious, there are enough strange and delightful anecdotes to keep most readers engaged. B&w illus. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Susan Tyler Hitchcock’s last book was Mad Mary Lamb: Lunacy and Murder in Literary London. Married with two children, she lives near Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (October 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393061442
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393061444
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #831,348 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Louis on September 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
For 191 years, Frankenstein's hulking monstrosity could be found, not only in our nightmares, but also on bookshelves, comic-book racks, theater stages, movie and television screens, as well as toy-store shelves. The monster indeed cast quite a long shadow across our popular culture and literary historian, Ms. Hitchcock (Mad Mary Lamb: Lunacy and Murder in Literary London), does a Herculean effort to enlighten the reader to the many facets and incarnations of the monster- from Shelley's original novel, to Karloff's tragic portrayal, to Dick Briefer's 1950's horror comic The Monster of Frankenstein and beyond.

Frankenstein: A Cultural History is a comprehensive and entertaining account of Shelley's infamous literary creation, and serves as a testament to the popularity of that, in Shelley's own words, "hideous phantasm of a man."
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Samuel D. Uretsky on December 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Frankenstein and Dracula were born on the same night -- sort of. The story of how Mary and Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and Byron's physician, John Polidori, spent an evening in the Villa Diodati, which resulted in the creation of these two seminal horrors has been told often enough, but probably never as well as Ms. Hitchcock does. After that, she goes on to discuss the book, and the frequent reiterations that have helped the Monster adapt to changing social mores and cultural needs. She writes well, and for the most part accurately, making this small cultural icon a fascinating subject.
If there is a flaw to the book, and I can't say for certain that there is, it seems as if Ms. Hitchcock has focused narrowly on her subject, and may, perhaps, have accepted general opinions regarding subject that were merely peripheral to the primary theme. A case in point is her dismissal of Lord Byron's treatment of his illegitimate daughter Allegra Biron (Byron chose this spelling as a way of aknowledging parenthood without confering legitimacy.) Ms. Hitchcock seems to accept the conventional wisdom that Byron was unfeelings and uncaring, as tossed the poor child aside to be raised by a group of Italian nuns -- an opinion which is largely trounced in Doris Langley Moore's "Lord Byron -- Accounts Rendered". I have no convenient way of testing other minor details -- and it's hard to say whether this type of thing really matters given the focus of the book.
Since most people haven't read the original novel (it's not an easy read) Ms. Hitchcock gives an excellent understanding of Ms. Shelley's inspiration and creation, and her discussion of the subsequent interpretations of the work is lively and interesting. This is a good academic work suitable for casual reading, and probably a must read for fans of horror movies and horror fiction.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The monster lives! Truer than any proclamation on a theater marquee, Frankenstein's monster still walks among us as it has for almost 200 years since it was first created. Susan Tyler Hitchcock, who last traced literary history in _Mad Mary Lamb_, has been on the lookout for the monster for the past twenty years, and now has written _Frankenstein: A Cultural History_ (Norton). "My guiding assumption has been that the monster's story says something important. Otherwise we would not keep telling it." The retellings are not just movies, although these do keep coming long after the archetypal films of Boris Karloff. Hitchcock traces the story in stage plays, television comedies, pulp novels, comics, plastic models, and breakfast cereals. The monster has risked being trivialized ever since its inception, but especially in our scientific age, it keeps scaring us with intimations that we may know too much for our own good.

Mary Shelley produced an original story but one not without its antecedents. Shelley subtitled her story, published in 1818, "The Modern Prometheus", drawing on the legend of the god who suffered for giving humans fire. She also drew upon the science of the time that was investigating how bodies twitched when sparked with electricity. Immediately after her novel was published, there were stage productions that introduced business that was not in the novel, like the bumbling laboratory assistant, electrical reanimation machines, a monster mute except for grunts and groans, an angry crowd seeking the monster and its creator, and a cataclysmic ending of them both at the climax. It was in 1931 that "something irreversible happened to Frankenstein", the film from Universal Studios. It "... locked in new and indelible imagery for the Monster.
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22 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Richard Masloski on October 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like the Frankenstein Monster himself, Mrs. Hitchcock's book is a patchwork quilt that is fascinating....but flawed. The book starts surely and slowly enough with an even-measured recounting of the famous genesis of the novel and continues its leisurely pace whilst covering early stage productions and the early movies....but somewhere along the way there comes a sense of a "hurry-up-and-finish" to the narrative. We speed through many usages and adaptations of the famous novel, with too-much undeserved attention paid to in-depth detailings of various comic books and political cartoons....yet for some bizarre reason Mrs. Hitchcock completely ignores mention of three of the most faithful filmed adaptations of Mary Shelly's jewel: the 1973 Dan Curtis production, the 1977 "Terror of Frankenstein" directed by Calvin Floyd and the most recent (and perhaps best in terms of faithfulness to the novel) Hallmark Entertainment's wonderful "Frankenstein" of 2004. Why these are not even mentioned is a complete mystery to me. And no mention is made of the controversial multi-million dollar Broadway musical that opened and closed after one night's performance: readers would have liked to have known of it. There are also errors herein that make me wonder how the writer of this book (who maintains a blog on the Monster!) could have made them. Some of the ones I've caught are as follows: she offers Boris Karloff's height as 6'3" (without the Monster's boots!)...and yet in dozens of other references I've discovered his height as being 5'10-11". To continue: in "Bride of Frankenstein" she has us believe it is the old man's son who disrupts his and the Monster's idyll, when in fact it is two strangers asking for directions who disrupt the cozy scene.Read more ›
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