December 28, 2007

Frankenstein: A Cultural History

Frankenstein’s themes, inherent and suggested, and, of course, its signifier character, The Monster, have been referenced in cultural and human affairs for almost 200 years, now.

Susan Tyler Hitchcock’s book, Frankenstein: A Cultural History, is an ambitious and satisfying overview of the phenomenon.

Hitchcock is an engaging writer and, best of all, she is generous and inclusive, as genuinely interested in Mary Shelley’s literary significance or the political interpretations of editorial cartoonists as she is in The Monster’s appearances in cheap B-movies and on Halloween masks. Dick Briefer’s comic book interpretation gets as much respect as Jung’s archetype of the shadow does in explaining The Monster’s sway on our consciousness.

Frankenstein movie fans might be a little disappointed by the film coverage in the book. Key versions are examined, and Boris Karloff’s iconic bolt-neck interpretation fairly permeates the narrative, but because the book is so wide-ranging, which is the whole idea, films are just a part of the greater story, and Hitchcock gets nowhere near — and never intended — a comprehensive study of Frankenstein in the cinema. It must also be noted that there are a couple of minor mistakes in the book’s film discussion. The Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill) character is first mentioned in the correct context of Son of Frankenstein (1939), but a few pages on, he is associated with the earlier Bride of Frankenstein (1935). In discussing Hammer Films’ Curse of Frankenstein (1957), credits belonging to Peter Cushing are attributed to his co-star, Christopher Lee. These are mere slip-ups, to be sure, but genre fans will bristle.

Frankenstein: A Cultural History succeeds because it takes large steps, with net cast wide, following Mary Shelley as she slowly gains acceptance for her seminal novel, and her extraordinary Monster as it inexorably takes its place as a central cultural icon.

Susan Tyler Hitchcock’s website, featuring an excerpt form the book.

Hitchcock’s blog, Monster Sightings.

The publisher’s Frankenstein page.


rob! said...

i'm dying to get this book!

Karswell said...

This is a cool book... I did a post on it too a few months back, Susan even posted a comment on my blog regarding one of the Briefer stories I had up.