The Monster's Library
Dante Alighieri, L’enfer, illus. Gustave Doré, trans. Pier-Angelo
Fiorentino (Paris: L. Hachette et cie., 1865)
A Book Made of Books: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
An exhibition curated by students enrolled in Frankenstein: Origins and Afterlives taught by Dr. Amy Pawl and Dr. Corinna Treitel, Fall 2017 – Spring 2018.
Olin Library, Special Collections
Washington University in St. Louis
This exhibit, The Monster’s Library, celebrates the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). Only eighteen when she began the novel, Shelley recalled its genesis as a “waking dream” that occurred after her friend Lord Byron invited a small circle of friends, including her future husband Percy Shelley, to participate in a storytelling contest. While Shelley powerfully describes the unbidden vision of the “pale student of unhallowed arts” that appeared to her in the night, it is clear that her work is also the result of years of serious and expansive reading. Shelley’s subsequent reference to her completed book as her “hideous progeny” invites us to see the parallels between her creative work and Victor Frankenstein’s. Just as the creature’s body is made up of previously scattered parts, Shelley’s creation is a book made up of other books. To investigate the remarkable intertextuality of Shelley’s project, students in Frankenstein: Origins and Afterlives have identified three “Libraries” within the novel itself. The most literal of the three, “The Creature’s Library,” consists of the volumes that the abandoned creature finds in a satchel and uses to craft his humanity in the absence of his creator. “Victor Frankenstein’s Library” collects scientific and poetic works referenced by that creator, while “The Author’s Library” displays influential writings by Shelley’s family members and others. The discoveries our students present here are a reminder that libraries and special collections continue to be laboratories of innovative research today.
The Monster’s Library, a special exhibit at Olin Library, is a student-curated exhibition of materials in Special Collections at Olin Library and the Becker Medical Library at Washington University in St. Louis. The following students enrolled in IPH 450A: Frankenstein, Origins and Afterlives explored the library collections in meaningful ways: Lisa Brune, Fritzi James, Elliott Crosland, Jack Stephens, Victoria Rabuse, Griffin Reed, Nate Rickard, Deborah Rookey, Yixin Huang, Rachel Brace, Kate Taub, Julia Kim, Anna Lin-Schweitzer, Anne Seul, Joshua Leopold, Rachael Butler, Kristen Sze-Tu, Maya St. Clair, and Noelle Darling. Drs. Amy Pawl and Corinna Treitel incorporated hands-on experiences with primary materials in their course curriculum. Our objective is to pave the way for students to serve as campus educators, sharing their knowledge of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with exhibition viewers.
Every exhibition is a collaborative effort dependent upon the skills and commitment of numerous individuals. The exhibitions program benefits from the unfailing support of Denise Stephens, University Librarian, and Nadia Ghasedi, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections. Dr. Garth Reese, Head of Curation for Special Collections, and Cassie Brand, Curator of Rare Books, lent their expertise by scouring the collections for relevant material. Joel Minor, Curator of Manuscripts, assisted with the letters in the exhibition. Elisabeth Brander, Rare Books Librarian at the Becker Medical Library, supplied thoroughly illustrated medical treatises for the students to peruse. She also kindly loaned a number of rare books and a model brain. Ian Lanius, Curatorial Assistant, designed the catalog and promotional materials. Kate Goldkamp, Curatorial Assistant, and Alison Carrick, Reference and Outreach Supervisor, assisted with every step along the way. Finally, we would like to thank the students in the Frankenstein course for their eagerness to investigate the library collections and for their contributions to the exhibition and catalog.
-Dr. Erin C. Sutherland