Messenger - Vol. 4, No. 1, Page 4
Student of Frankenstein

     The pursuit of knowledge was the undoing of poor Victor
Frankenstein, but fortunately, modern scholars needn't chase a monster
through Arctic netherworlds to expand their knowledge of Mary
Shelley's classic. The task will become easier still with the
publication of a new book next spring by University of Delaware
English Prof. Charles E. Robinson, noted Mary Shelley scholar and
expert on all things Frankenstein.
     But, scholars aren't the only ones picking Robinson's brains
these days to glean insight into the world of the beautiful, free-
thinking writer who, at the age of 18, literally created a monster.
     Robinson recently was interviewed by Richard Brown, a film
professor and host of "Reflections on the Silver Screen," a regular
program on the American Movie Channel. Excerpts from the interview are
included in It's Alive: The True Story of Frankenstein, a two-hour
special aired Nov. 20 on the Arts and Entertainment Network.
     The special coincides with the release of TriStar Pictures' epic-
sized adaptation of Shelley's thriller. The film, Mary Shelley's
Frankenstein, is co-produced by Francis Ford Coppola and Kenneth
Branagh, who also directs and stars as the tortured scientist Victor
Frankenstein. Helena Bonham Carter is cast as Frankenstein's fiancee,
Elizabeth, and Robert Di Niro stars as the Creature. (The word
"monster" was not allowed to be used on the set.)
     Unlike earlier film versions of Shelley's tale, this one is said
to remain true to the text and to explore in more detail the
creature's  loneliness and Frankenstein's haunting guilt.
     All of that and more were explored in the A&E special for which
other Shelley scholars were interviewed, along with the likes of actor
Gene Wilder and comedian Mel Brooks.
     Meanwhile, Robinson continues to pore over photographs of Mary
Shelley's original text, comparing revisions made both in her
handwriting and in the remarkably similar handwriting of her husband,
poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Robinson has become an expert on the way
each author makes a "w," "o," "g" and an ampersand.
     Laboring at a computer, Robinson re-edits typed text to echo the
handwritten revisions. When he finishes editing the Frankenstein
manuscripts, which are kept in the Bodleian Library at Oxford
University, scholars will have at their fingertips comparisons of
Shelley's original, hand-penned text, typescript versions of that text
and its revisions and the final printed version of the text as it was
published in January 1818. (A revised edition was published in 1831.)
     And, while the work is labor-intensive, it fascinates Robinson to
discover how the husband and wife worked together and influenced the
     "It provides empirical evidence for the study of a literary
collaboration," he says. "You can see what she wrote, what she changed
and what he changed, what she rewrote.
     "Sometimes," he says, "Percy Bysshe Shelley [whom Robinson refers
to as PBS] would make suggestions in pencil. If she were going to keep
the change, she would trace over it in ink. Sometimes, she left his
suggestions out.
     "Scholars," he continues, "can also use this text to study the
genesis of the Frankenstein text, its sequence and how the manuscript
is different from the first published edition. But, it also allows one
to see into the artist's mind, to see how the artist worked toward the
development of a theme. There are characters whose names are changed,
for example, and the chapter breaks are different."
     Robinson's finished text will be published in two volumes by
Garland Press in New York-part of the Bodleian Shelley manuscripts,
which are under the general editorship of Donald H. Reiman, the
leading Percy Bysshe Shelley scholar in the world. Reiman recently
moved to the Newark campus from New York and is now an adjunct
professor at the University.
     Mary Shelley was just 18 years old when she began writing
Frankenstein. The child of ardent feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (who
died shortly after the childbirth) and author William Godwin, young
Mary "eloped" with the married Percy Bysshe Shelley when she was 16.
In the summer of 1816, the couple vacationed at Lake Geneva with Lord
Byron and passed many rainy days and nights telling ghost stories.
Frankenstein was conceived after a night of such storytelling as Mary
struggled to sleep. With her husband's encouragement, she kept
developing the story that was eventually published anonymously.
     Today, her tale-which Robinson describes as the story of "men of
reason who pursue knowledge to the destruction of their own hearts"-is
the most widely read, 19th-century novel of all. More high school and
college courses assign Frankenstein than any other novel, Robinson
says. The Delaware Humanities Forum often sends Robinson to area high
schools to teach Frankenstein to high school seniors. He has been
teaching the novel at the University for 30 years.
     Mary Shelley's early life was beset with tragedy: A half-sister
committed suicide; Percy's wife drowned herself and her unborn child
after her husband and Mary ran off; Mary's father disowned her for a
time; her first child was born prematurely and died; a baby daughter
lived only one year; and a son, William, lived only to age 3. Shelley,
himself, drowned while sailing in the Bay of Lerici, only 5-1/2 years
after they were married.
     All of this happened before Mary was 25. She would live to be 54
and have other suitors, Washington Irving believed to be among them,
but she never remarried.
     She published five other novels, 25 short stories and two dramas,
but she was always to be known as the author of Frankenstein.
     She never sought the limelight and, were she alive today,
Robinson thinks she would be much the same.
     "I think she would be delighted that her story has become a
household word, but, no, I don't think she would appear on Donahue,"
Robinson says, with a smile. "But, I don't know...maybe
                                                          -Beth Thomas