As Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ turns 200, audiobook captures tragedy

(published in the Raleigh News and Observer, June 03, 2018)

This year marks the 200th birthday of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.” I began celebrating by renting the audio from the library, using the OverDrive app for the first time. OverDrive allows for easy borrowing, all it took was my library card. For non-Audible subscribers, or listening addicts like myself, it’s a great resource.

Over the years, there have been different audios of this book, but I can’t imagine a better one than Simon Vance’s 2008 recording (Tantor). Vance has narrated many classics. That makes sense given his rich, sonorous voice.

As a companion to my audio book, I read Lita Judge’s powerful biography, “Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness and How Mary Shelley created Frankenstein” (Roaring Brook; ages 13 and up).

This sophisticated 300-page book is made up of illustrated free-verses poems that honor the innovation of an 18-year-old and her creative spirit. Judge mimics Shelley’s story-within-a-story framework with the Prologue, using the intriguing viewpoint of “The Creature” who tells readers “Most people didn’t believe “Mary Shelley,/a teenage girl, unleashed me,/a creature powerful and murderous/enough to haunt their dreams.”

Judge further honors Shelley with poems separated into nine sections, a nod to the number of months it took Shelly to compose her famous work.

Judge’s harmony of haunting black and white watercolors and image-strong first-person poems embrace the life of a young woman who surmounts judgment, deaths, isolation, poverty, betrayals, and disappointments with continued inventiveness. The biography traces her early life. Her mother dies after her birth, her cruel stepmother sends her away, she becomes lovers with Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and publishes her novel, albeit anonymously.

Judge’s emotive art invokes the essence of the young writer, her process and the characters she creates. The book’s introduction and back matter shows the author’s meticulous research.

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