Lately I've been on this Frankenstein fetish kick after watching Tim Burton's Frankenweenie. The dog's death stirred me and then I began a tour of old films regarding Dr. Victor Frankenstein. From Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound to many others. During this time I came across this book and fancied it. Not only is it about Mary Shelley's creation but so much more. About the era and times and the horror that was ever present. I highly recommend it and hope you enjoy this amusingly morbid interview. Presenting Roseanne Montillo on her book "The Lady and Her Monsters A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece."
1. What was your prime motivation and inspiration to share knowledge wise when it comes to your book "The Lady and Her Monsters A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece?"
RM: The book developed from a class I teach, Forbidden Knowledge. I became aware that most of my students knew the very basic facts about Frankenstein, most especially those very salacious tidbits about Mary Shelley's time on Lake Geneva in 1816. But I wanted them to know that there was more to it—that in fact the book was heavily influenced by the scientific beliefs about reanimating the dead, the lure of the resurrectionists, religion, in part, as well as all the real characters that populated Mary's life, whether directly or indirectly.
2. Would you share with us some aspects of Mary Shelley's life and perspective that may have influenced her to create the literary masterpiece Frankenstein and of course Victor Frankenstein?
RM: Her family also played a very large part in her creative process. Her father, William Godwin, held weekly intellectual soirées at his home where prominent guests included poets, writers, scientists, doctors, all round natural philosophers and their conversations revolved around the general topics of the time. Those topics included the lure of forbidden knowledge, of course, and reanimating the dead. Although as a girl she was not allowed to take part in these conversations, it is well known that she often hid in the room or sat atop the staircase to listen to the men. Percy Shelley also influenced her. He had quite a knowledge of galvanic electricity, poisons and had experimented himself, so he kept up with the scientific conversations of the times.
3. I see Mary Shelley had a torrid love affair with Percy Shelley aka Mad Shelley that include sex in a cemetery and got weirder as the night progressed. Would love to know more.
RM: When they met, Shelley was already a married man and father to a young child. That didn't stop them. For his part, his views on love and sexuality were always very flexible, but for Mary, that was her first love, and there was also an understanding that he was involved in a very unhappy marriage. But theirs was not only a very physical love, but an intellectual one. He believed he had found his match in every sense. As the daughter of two intellectuals, Percy believed that she would keep up her parents' tradition of brilliance.
4. Mary had some friends in high places so to speak. Like Lord Byron and others. What can you share with us about her social networking?
RM: Her father was a well-known writer and political reformer, so that made it easier for her to move within a certain circle. Her mother's reputation also predated her. Mary Wollstonecraft had garnered fame and a reputation for her own politically charged writings, and people had not forgotten her after she passed. The network around Mary made her well aware of where she stood and also what was expected of her. Her connections with Lord Byron eventually opened her up to an entirely different circle and class of people.
5. I am most assuredly curious to some tales of real life Dr. Frankensteins during this time in history. Can you share some with us?
RM: Giovanni Aldini, of course, and his experiments on George Foster in 1803, is the man that most closely resembles Victor Frankenstein. His desires to reanimate the felon at the Royal College of Surgeons garnered him notoriety and quite a following; the experiments having been pioneered by his uncle, Luigi Galvani. Much like Frankenstein, he also believed his doings were entirely benign.
6. Lets most assuredly get into the grave robbing. I recently saw the film Burke and Hare which I believe was around this time period. A dark comedy worth the watch. What can you tell us about the medical profession and their robbing of bodies from the grave? It seems it was common practice.
RM: Robbing graves was indeed a very common practice. Oddly enough, although it was morally reprehensible to do so, legally being found with a dead body was not a great crime. But being found with the dead man's (or woman's) belongings was. It was not only a very common practice, but a very lucrative one. At the time there was a great increase of medical schools as well as more students attending lectures. As such, doctors required more dead bodies on which to practice. These instructors had also changed their methods of teaching: rather than using just one dead body to show the whole class, now they wanted a dead body for each student to work on. As such, more cadavers were needed. Initially, doctors and students themselves did the grave robbing, but the practice was soon done away with when it became obvious that this was ruinous to their careers. That's when the grave robbers—resurrection men—came into the picture. They did the work for the doctors. Burke and Hare are technically in a class all of their own. They didn't rob graves, as they found that part of the work almost sacrilegious. So instead of digging up already dead corpses they killed those they came in contact with and sold their bodies to Dr. Knox for a profit.
7. How does the story of Prometheus tie into Frankenstein exactly?
RM: In Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humans, but he also created man from clay. He was a rebel, someone who went against an all-mighty power and for that was punished by being shackled to a rock and having his liver devoured by an eagle over and over. In many ways, Victor Frankenstein's sin is quite similar. He transgresses against a mightier power than himself, Nature, God, call it what you will, by creating a creature, though not from clay but from bits of skin and bones he finds in a cemetery. For that transgression Nature or God strikes back; rather than having his liver eaten over and over, Frankenstein is left alive to watch the suffering he has caused, aka, watch his family die one by one, in many respects a worse fate than being shackled to a rock.
8. Can you share some tales of dissections with us or anything disturbingly morbid that we haven't got to yet that you embrace in the book?
RM: Perhaps what most people don't realize is that the resurrection men haven't exactly been wiped out, but that body snatchers still exists to this day, in this age. Their methods have evolved, of course, and it is not in the cemeteries that they lurk but that funeral homes have become their favorite haunting grounds. Burke and Hare were paid a pittance compared to the money certain people make today in the trade of body parts. It is a billion dollar industry, unnaturally lucrative, but one so morbid, few want to talk about and even fewer want to think of.
9. What do we know of Mary Shelley's last days on Earth that led up to her death and was Frankenstein her only book? Also some thoughts on Frankenstein the monster and his tragic end please?
RM: Mary Shelley wrote quite a few books, though Frankenstein is her most renowned work. Unfortunately she suffered the same fate Victor did: her own creation entirely overwhelmed her. One of her best books is The Last Man, an apocalyptic novel set in the year 2100 in which she deals with a plague that kills nearly all of humanity. After her husband's death she also spent a good deal of time making sure that his work became well known to the world. Money was always an issue for her, but some bright spots in her life were her son, Percy Florence, and his eventual marriage.
As for Victor Frankenstein's end, I think pity is one of the things that certainly comes through in the book. He unwittingly opened up a Pandora's box and could not deal with the consequences. He blamed the lure of knowledge for his demise, but I don't believe that's true; it wasn't knowledge that brought him down but his inability to deal with that knowledge. To a certain extent, I also think Mary Shelley wanted her readers to feel a certain amount of pity for the creature as well. Despite some of his atrocious actions, he was also a victim of his circumstance and not only a product of his nature, which brought out one Mary Shelley's main questions: are people (creature) simply born bad, or do they become so because of the circumstances that visit them?
10. I love your style in the book that has a dark intelligent appetite when it comes to knowledge in your book. Anything you can share about the future book wise with us and any departing words or links you would like to share? Thanks.
RM: One should have a healthy yearning for knowledge, but also a very healthy respect for it. Mary Shelley meant Frankenstein to be a warning about knowledge, to be careful about crossing boundaries that perhaps we are not meant to cross, and Victor Frankenstein equates knowledge to a stinging serpent. In my opinion, knowledge only stings if unprepared to deal with the consequences.
The Lady and Her Monsters by Roseanne Motillo brings to life the fascinating times, startling science, and real-life horrors behind Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein.
Montillo recounts how—at the intersection of the Romantic Age and the Industrial Revolution—Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein was inspired by actual scientists of the period: curious and daring iconoclasts who were obsessed with the inner workings of the human body and how it might be reanimated after death.
With true-life tales of grave robbers, ghoulish experiments, and the ultimate in macabre research—human reanimation—The Lady and Her Monsters is a brilliant exploration of the creation of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s horror classic.
Purchase the book online at Amazon.com
Publisher: William Morrow
Jeffery Pritchett is the host of The Church Of Mabus Show bringing you high strange stories from professionals in the carousel of fields surrounding the paranormal.