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The Lady and Her Monsters : A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece
by Roseanne Montillo

Overview -

The truly electric story of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, this book--printed with special ink--literally glows in the dark

Told with the verve and ghoulish fun of a Tim Burton film, The Lady and Her Monsters is a highly entertaining blend of literary history, lore, and early scientific exploration that traces the origins of the greatest horror story of all time-Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Exploring the frightful milieu in which Frankenstein was written, Roseanne Montillo, an exciting new literary talent, recounts how Shelley's Victor Frankenstein mirrored actual scientists of the period.  Read more...


 
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More About The Lady and Her Monsters by Roseanne Montillo
 
 
 
Overview

The truly electric story of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, this book--printed with special ink--literally glows in the dark

Told with the verve and ghoulish fun of a Tim Burton film, The Lady and Her Monsters is a highly entertaining blend of literary history, lore, and early scientific exploration that traces the origins of the greatest horror story of all time-Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Exploring the frightful milieu in which Frankenstein was written, Roseanne Montillo, an exciting new literary talent, recounts how Shelley's Victor Frankenstein mirrored actual scientists of the period. Montillo paints a rich portrait of Shelley and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their contemporaries and their friend Lord Byron. Intellectually curious, they were artists, poets, and philosophers, united in captivation with the occultists and daring scientists risking their reputations and their immortal souls to advance our understanding of human anatomy and medicine.

These remarkable investigations could not be undertaken without the cutthroat grave robbers who prowled cemeteries for a supply of fresh corpses. The newly dead were used for both private and very public autopsies and dissections, as well as the most daring trials of all: attempts at human reanimation through the application of electricity.

Juxtaposing monstrous mechanization and rising industrialism with the sublime beauty and decadence of the legendary Romantics who defined the age, Montillo takes us into a world where poets become legends in salons and boudoirs; where fame-hungry "doctors" conduct shocking performances for rabid, wide-eyed audiences; and where maniacal body snatchers secretly toil in castle dungeons.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780062025814
  • ISBN-10: 0062025813
  • Publisher: Harpercollins
  • Publish Date: February 2013
  • Page Count: 322


Related Categories

Books > History > Modern - 19th Century
Books > Literary Criticism > English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
Books > Medical > Anatomy

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2012-10-15
  • Reviewer: Staff

Montillo’s debut, a macabre romp through 18th and 19th century Europe, illuminates the circumstances and inspiration behind one of gothic literature’s most notorious tales. Walking a fine line between historical fact and logical conjecture, the book deftly weaves details of Mary Shelley’s early life into the cultural and scientific map of the time in which she was writing. Grim body snatchers, cadaver-carving surgeons, and nefarious alchemists litter the pages. In her retelling of the genesis story of Frankenstein, Montillo offers a constellation of personalities that surrounded Shelley during her hasty writing of the tale. Heavily referencing letters and personal journals, Montillo analyzes Shelley’s literary cohorts, providing insight into the motives of her famous literary companions, the haunted Percy Shelley and womanizing Lord Byron. The picture painted provides much room for speculation, stripping long-embellished versions of the story down to the verifiable facts. Who really gave Shelley the technical know-how to write what she did? What were the true origins of her long-standing depression? Fraught with suicides, superstitions, natural disasters, and love affairs, the life of Mary Shelley shares much emotionally with the harrowing tale of her great protagonist, Victor Frankenstein. A delicious and enticing journey into the origins of a masterpiece. Illus. Agent: Rob Weisbach, Rob Weisbach Creative Management. (Feb.)

 
BookPage Reviews

The electrifying birth of Mary Shelley's monster

When Mary Shelley published Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus in 1818, it immediately captured the public’s attention. Two centuries later it remains a canonical work, despite—or perhaps because of—numerous Hollywood bowdlerizations that often have relegated a serious, philosophical novel to the realm of horror or even kitsch. Roseanne Montillo restores some of the luster to Shelley’s masterpiece in The Lady and Her Monsters, a work of literary history that explores the origins of the book through the lens of the writer’s melodramatic life and the times in which she lived.

Montillo intertwines three narrative threads in this engaging book. First, there is Shelley’s own story, which has become legend. While still a teenager, Mary Godwin ran off to Europe with her married poet-lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and her stepsister, Claire Clairmont. The trio settled into a Swiss chateau with Lord Byron and a young doctor, John Polidori (author of another horror classic, “The Vampyre”). A storytelling competition among these friends and lovers spawned Frankenstein. As with all legends, Montillo shows, this one has been romanticized. Mary Shelley certainly achieved greatness with this literary work, but it was a long time germinating, and grew out of the zeitgeist of an age fascinated by notions of the regeneration of life.

Montillo explores the origins of Frankenstein through the lens of Shelley's life.

Experiments in “galvanism,” pioneered by the 18th-century surgeon Luigi Galvani, make up the second part of Montillo’s story. Often attended by a public hungry for sensational entertainment, these attempts to raise the dead using electricity could not be carried out without corpses. This inescapable reality provides the impetus for Montillo’s third thread: grave-robbing. Montillo supplies a thorough account of this gruesome practice, which sometimes even led to serial murder, and caps it with a curious coda from our own century involving the remains of beloved broadcaster Alistair Cooke.

Yet, despite the ghoulish charms of these well-researched and well-told portions of the story, it is the antics of Mary Shelley and her cohorts that drive the book. From a modern perspective, these young artists were little more than a band of Regency-era hippies, traipsing around Europe, scrounging for money (except for the well-heeled Lord Byron), experimenting with mind-altering substances, partaking in free love and bearing children out of wedlock. It was all very scandalous, but as Montillo shows, often tragic, especially for the women (there were a number of suicides within the extended group). As the daughter of the proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the progressive writer William Godwin, Mary Shelley was herself a freethinker and, as Frankenstein proves, deeply intelligent and talented. But she was not always happy with her unconventional domestic situation, Montillo suggests, and the romantic version of events she left us with in her introduction to the 1831 revision of Frankenstein hides some ugly truths.

With all the other principals of the story dead, Montillo says, “There was no one to contradict Mary, no one to say the events she was describing had not taken place or hadn’t taken place in the sequence she remembered.”

With a few revisionist strokes, Shelley created not only the myth of Frankenstein’s monster, but the myth behind the novel as well. Montillo’s clever blend of history, science and biography makes The Lady and Her Monsters a closer version of the truth.

 
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