Thursday, March 28, 2013

Nonfiction: The Lady and Her Monsters by Roseanne Montillo

Subtitle: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece
Publisher: William Morrow
Date: February 5, 2013
Format: hardback
Source: BookTrib Review Crew
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 287
Reading time: five days

In The Lady and Her Monsters, literature professor Roseanne Montillo examines the social and scientific background of Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein. Delving into tales of electrical experiments, body snatching, and the decadence of the Romantics, she places Shelley's life and writing within its broader historical context to demonstrate the many influences that led to the penning of Frankenstein.

While the subject matter was interesting, I found that Montillo's research and writing didn't quite carry through. For one thing, the jumping around between time periods and situations during the initial chapters was confusing. Montillo dramatized some scenes from her subjects' lives, and it was unclear whether this was backed up by research or was simply her putting words into others' mouths. The number of times phrases such as "They must have thought..." or "they should have wondered..." (emphasis added) were used was one of the things that most irked me while reading this book.

Also, it seemed like much of the background lacked substantial connection to Mary Shelley. Sure, medical experiments and body snatching were current topics in Shelley's time, but Montillo didn't provide much evidence of Shelley's actual awareness of and interest in these issues. She discussed them as basically two separate things: on the one hand, scientific experiments tinged with illegal activities that continued decades past Shelley's writing, and on the other hand, Shelley's biography and the publication of Frankenstein. Both subjects seemed to be treated only rather topically. I didn't take much away from the book that I didn't already know. It didn't serve to alter my understanding of the context surrounding Shelley's most famous work, besides perhaps to demonstrate how irritating it might have been to hang around the Shelleys and their friends.

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