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Roseanne Montillo discusses 'The Lady and Her Monsters,' her book about Mary Shelley

Frankenstein's monster – as imagined by Mary Shelley – has lived on in popular imagination for decades. Montillo discusses reanimation and the ways that religion and pop culture have changed our view of Shelley's characters.

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Maybe they didn't want to come back or shouldn't come back at all. No one took this into consideration.
Q: Did the book explore these issues?
A: "Frankenstein" was one of the earliest books to ask these questions.

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At the onset, it seems very much a plain horror story. But once you read on inside, it asks a lot of deep moral questions. People didn't have the answers for them then, and we still don't today.
Q: How is our popular view of Frankenstein and his monster different from the original portrait that Mary Shelley created?
A: The pop-culture view of Frankenstein's monster is focused on his freakiness: the creature is a lump of bones.

In the book, the creature was meant to be a moral compass. He commits horrible deeds, but he's also very eloquent. He's an intelligent being, he speaks very clearly. He tries to be nice and makes a conscious choice to move to evil. One could debate whether he's even smarter than Victor Frankenstein himself.

Most of the movies miss that. He grumbles, he's green, he's got those outstretched hands. You know what he's going to do if you come in contact with him.

Q: Did Mary Shelley create the first "mad scientist" of fiction?
A: She really did.

One could argue whether he was truly mad. I'm not sure, but he is eccentric. He wants to know more, he's into the pursuit of knowledge, he is curious and intelligent. The book tells you right away that he wants to know the secrets of heaven and earth.

He did achieve his goal to give life to a creature. But he missed the mark and didn't live up to his responsibilities. I think he became a little bit mad afterward.
Q: How does the book fit into the early development of what we now know as the genres of science fiction and horror fiction?
A: It was probably the first science-fiction book. She led the way for everyone who came after her.

Different bookstores have different ways of labeling it. It can be science fiction or horror. Many bookstores place it in feminist fiction as well, which is odd to me.
Q: What message is Mary Shelley sending that's still relevant today?
A: Mary Shelley wrote "Frankenstein" as a warning to society. At that time, people had ambition and wanted to push those lines and see how far they could go.

But where is that boundary? Science wants to achieve its goals, but how do you know when too much is too much? Is there a line that shouldn't be crossed?

I'm not quite certain there is. But you do have to take responsibility for your creations since consequences can be quite dire, as Victor Frankenstein found out.
Q: So she's giving a warning to scientists?

A: It is a warning, but I don't think they will see it as that.

If anything, Mary Shelley had an opposite effect: People see this as something that could be done.

Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.


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