Frankenstein roams the GMB

Trinity celebrated Halloween by reading Mary Shelley’s most famous gothic tale from start to finish

Trinity decided to celebrate Halloween by letting one of the most famous monsters in history exceed the walls of the university and enter the GMB. In fact, this year Trinity has joined around seven hundred other worldwide institutions in a marathon public reading of the incredibly famous gothic novel Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley. This was completely free and accessible to staff, students and members of the public.

The event was made possible thanks to the School of English’s participation in the international Frankreads festival, led by the Keats-Shelley Association of America. By taking part into this initiative, Trinity has entered a worldwide celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Shelley’s masterpiece, promoted through numerous cultural events across the globe, such as exhibitions, film screenings, discussions and public readings.

Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein at only eighteen years old in 1818, while she was living with her husband, as well as poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, poet Lord Byron and Dr John Polidori, on the banks of Lake Geneva. The novel’s main character is Victor Frankenstein, an ambitious scientist who assembles a human-like creature by putting together several anatomical parts taken from different corpses found in a graveyard, and later brings it to life through the use of electricity. This classic is considered to be the first work of science-fiction, and it deals with themes such as the quest for forbidden knowledge, going beyond the limits of human understanding, education and experience, and the usurpation of the female role. The endless references to Frankenstein in popular culture, along with the several adaptations in cinema and literature, testify its importance and great artistic even today.

The marathon, organized by Dr Clare Clarke, assistant professor of the School of English, started at around 10am in the GMB, with the settled purpose to go on as-long-as-it-takes in order to read Frankenstein aloud from start to finish. Dr Clarke started enthusiastically reading the novel, beginning from chapter one, and later followed by numerous other speakers who kept passionately reading aloud one chapter each.

Professors and staff members of the School of English were present at the event, some of them engaged in either joyfully taking pictures with their phones or reading this masterpiece with great excitement and an energetic voice, which breathed new life into the pages of this 19th-century masterpiece. Notably, every reader cared to modulate the tone of their voice accordingly to the elevated subject matter, pausing and dramatizing on particularly important passages. Therefore the reading was made both engaging and easy to vividly picture in mind as if the scene was concretely taking place in front of everyone’s eyes. Indeed, the crowd appeared to be completely enchanted by this tale of decay and misery and listened quietly and attentively until the end of it. The first twenty attendees were given a free copy of the text, and a stash of spooky chocolate eyeballs was provided to the audience.

Remarkably, Professor Aileen Douglas, Head of the School of English, took the floor when the very climax of the novel was reached, thus reading chapter eleven, the one which starts the creature’s long and detailed account of its hardships to its father, Victor Frankenstein. However, among the readers, there were not only professors and PhD graduates of Trinity’s English department but also a young girl of ten years of age taken directly from the audience who, with her tender and soft voice, read chapter number fifteen. This sequence of the text deals with the creature’s discovery and subsequent self-teaching of classical books from Ancient Greece and Rome, along with Paradise Lost and the Sorrows of Werter. Her reading proved to be particularly evocative because it appropriately coincided with that point of the novel in which all the monster’s initial childishness, in the sense of innocence, emerges while he recounts the gradual process that led to its ultimate acquisition of knowledge and experience of the world. The creature’s transition from a condition of complete naiveness to adult-like maturity and consciousness echoed with great resonance through her young voice.

The public reading went on non-stop, aside from a very short break from 3 to 3.30pm in order to let the readers catch up their breaths, after all that talking! It ended after 6pm when the very last chapter was finally read. The entire event was followed by the attendees in religious silence, and the tale left everyone hanging with bated breath as the story progressed to its tragic, yet enlightening, conclusion. The GMB proved to be an appropriate and well-chosen setting for the rebirth of this classic. In fact, its wide windows opening on the cloudless and grey sky of this cold day with Shelley’s story of doom and anguish resounding gloomily among its walls offered the best and most frightening possible end to the month of October.