Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, one of the most widely read novels in high schools and universities, turns 200 this year. You might have heard about events relating to something called “Frankenreads” and wondered about the series. Well, Lehigh Valley residents can celebrate the momentous anniversary of Shelley’s text by taking part in a series of Frankenstein-related activities sponsored by Lehigh University, Lehigh’s Humanities Center, its Health, Medicine, and Society Program, and the Bethlehem Area Public Library. These events will culminate with public reading of the novel, which will take place on October 31st. During the main Frankenreads event, partners recruit participants to read three-page selections from Frankenstein, ultimately reading the entire novel aloud by the end of the day.
This event and others were organized, in part, by Dr. Beth Dolan, an Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University. Dolan has long been a fan of Shelley’s life and work. As a member of the Keats-Shelley Association of America, she formed the idea for Frankenreads as a way to publicly celebrate Shelley’s work in light of its 200th anniversary. The president of the Association, Neil Freistat, picked up the idea, and it grew into a worldwide celebration. Frankenreads is made up, as of now, of 595 partners from 49 countries. While each partner will conduct its own unique events in addition to the reading of the novel, the sheer number of participants already makes this a successful event.
In terms of the novel itself, Frankenstein proves notable for its longevity. It’s rare that a book should be so popular, so many times adapted, and so suited to different interpretations in various historical contexts. When asked why Frankenstein is important for the present moment, Dolan pointed to its political salience: “One of the things that Frankenstein does that I think is so beautiful is that it tells a story from three different perspectives…and that invites, and sort of activates people, to compare narratives…and consider different points of view. That’s something we’re struggling with at the current moment. It [also] talks about the barriers to understanding someone else.” Taking different points of view seriously with empathy for others continues to be a challenge in our contemporary moment. Frankenstein attempts to teach us the importance of listening to others even when — or, perhaps, especially when — doing so is difficult.
Dolan also points to “the way that the creature is without a home; he longs for a home and for companionship. And I think that’s something that touches people across time and of course it’s relevant for our current moment because of the global refugee crisis.” In a sense, there are two ways that Frankenstein is relevant today; indeed, the Bethlehem Public Library hosted book talks focused on how the novel provides insight into bioethics and the refugee crisis during the past month. Everyone who reads this novel has a different response, but its longevity proves its relevance and depth. It is a striking experience to turn on the news wherever you might be in the world and be able to relate the events back to Shelley’s progressive text.
Join the Frankenreads Fun
The Bethlehem reading of Frankenstein will take place at the main branch of the Bethlehem Area Public Library, located at 11 W Church Street.. The event runs from 10am-8pm on the 31st and is costume-optional! The library encourages community members to get involved with the event by volunteering to read a portion of the text. You can sign up to read by emailing [email protected].
BAPL, Lehigh University’s Center for Community Engagement, Lehigh’s English Department, and other community partners look forward to welcoming participants to a variety of book discussions and film talkbacks, as well. Newcomers to the world of Mary Shelley, experts on her work, and everyone in-between are equally welcome to attend any and all of the events listed below! We hope you will join us at the remaining book talks, film showings, and, of course, for the main Frankenreads gathering! All events are free and open to the public.You can also follow along online by searching for #FRANKENREADS on social media.
Book Discussions, to be held at BAPL (main branch):
10/15, Volume I: Creation: Victor Frankenstein and Bioethics (6:30-8pm)
10/22, Volume II: Fear and Social Responsibility: The Creature as Minority, Refugee, Orphan (6:30-8pm)
10/29, Volume III: Partner: Companionship, Loss, Isolation (6:30-8pm)
Film Talkbacks, locations vary:
10/17, Frankenstein (1931), dir. James Whale, with Boris Karloff (7:30pm, Frank Banko Alehouse Cinema at SteelStacks)
10/26, Young Frankenstein (1974), dir. Mel Brooks (7-9pm, Lehigh University’s Sinclair Auditorium)
10/27, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), dir. Kenneth Branagh (1-4pm, Bethlehem Area Public Library — Main Branch)
Please note that this is a collaborative article, written by Ava Bertone and Kelsey Stratman.
*Feature image courtesy of one of the many Frankenflyers distributed by event partners!*