Photo: Frankenstein (detail, Bernie Wrightson, “Frankenstein”)
Is it the first great science fiction tale, or an allegory of the horror of maternity?
This October, you can decide as the Belmont Public Library presents Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” as the featured title for One Book One Belmont 2018, the library’s seventh community reading program.
The library and 13 community organizations invite town residents to read the book and participate in book discussions and other exciting activities. Charlotte Gordon, author of the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award-winning book “Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley,” will cap the month-long celebration on the evening of Thursday, Nov. 1 (the day after Halloween) at the Beech Street Center with a talk focused on the life of Shelley, her mother, the early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (who died giving birth to Shelley), and the lasting impact of her novel.
The selection of Frankenstein is particularly timely: as the library commemorates its 150th anniversary, communities around the world are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publication of “Frankenstein,” first released in 1818 by the 19-year-old Shelley. The groundbreaking novel gave birth to two literary genres, science fiction, and horror. Over the course of the 75 years that followed it would inspire such classic works in the horror realm as Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and Bram Stokers “Dracula,” and in science fiction, Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine.”
Jill Lepore of the New Yorker writes “Frankenstein, the story of a creature who has no name, has for two hundred years been made to mean just about anything … It’s four stories in one: an allegory, a fable, an epistolary novel, and an autobiography, a chaos of literary fertility.”
Belmont Library Director Peter Struzziero is especially excited for this year’s selection and suggests that, while a different direction from past programs, it’s one that can be a really special effort in 2018.
“Frankenstein is a book being celebrated all over the world this year, and in truth, it’s my favorite book, one that I’ve connected with deeply all of my life,” he says. “While I’m sure Mary Shelley would like to join us, she’s been ‘unable’ since 1851, so in her stead, we are so thrilled to have Charlotte Gordon coming to join us in celebration of Frankenstein, and Mary Shelley specifically.”
An associate professor of English at Endicott College, Gordon has written the first dual biography of Mary Shelley and her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, a leading advocate of equal rights for women known also for her unconventional lifestyle. Moira Macdonald, art critic for the Seattle Times, wrote, “’Romantic Outlaws’ tells the tale of the two remarkable Mary’s whose lives only overlapped by 10 days. Gordon chooses to let their stories unfold not chronologically, but side by side in alternating chapters; an audacious choice that lets us see how the daughter’s life mirrored that of her unconventional mother.”
New York Times writer Cristina Nehring explains that Gordon’s goal in this biography, her third work of history, is to tack back and forth between the literary love lives of both women in order to show that Mary Shelley was “steeped . . . in her mother’s ideas” and that the two were temperamental twins, even if their existences hardly overlapped.
One Book One Belmont 2018 is supported by the Friends of the Belmont Public Library and the following co-sponsors: Belmont Against Racism, Belmont Books, The Belmont Chinese American Association, The Belmont Citizen-Herald, Belmont Gallery of Art, The Belmont Garden Club, The Belmont Historical Society, The Belmont Library Foundation, Belmont Media Center, The Council on Aging, The Department of Public Works, and The Human Rights Commission. Residents may borrow Frankenstein from the library in many different formats: hardcover, paperback, large print, books on CD, ebook or audiobook from the Overdrive catalog and on some of the library’s circulating Kindles.
To place a request, visit the library website at belmontpubliclibrary.net or call the reference desk, 617-993-2870.