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Graduate student Scott Bartley reads from Chapter VI of Volume I, as professor of English Susan Wolfson follows along during the Frankenread on Oct. 31, 2018. Photo courtesy of Richard Trenner '70


While campus was dead silent over fall break, with students traveling home, the creature of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s renowned Gothic novel “Frankenstein” came to life in East Pyne Hall, just in time for Halloween.

As part of the Frankenreads initiative organized by the Keats-Shelley Association of America and partly funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Department of English held a marathon reading of the novel in celebration of its 200th anniversary. The University’s marathon reading was one of the many that took place at over 500 sites in over 40 countries.

“Frankenstein is the kind of default reference for wonderful ideas that promise progress but don’t turn out the way you imagined and turn out to be quite disastrous. That’s why Frankenstein is still so relevant today; it’s a really durable cultural fable,” explained Susan Wolfson, a professor of English and a member of the board of directors of the Keats-Shelley Association of America.

The novel tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a hideous, yet sentient, creature and is haunted by his creation.

“There’s always the question [in the novel] about the human, about where the human ends and where something else that isn’t human starts,” Professor of English and Comparative Literature Emeritus Michael George Wood said. “Many people confuse the [protagonist] Victor Frankenstein with the monster, and that’s really interesting; it’s almost hinting that the created is merely a creature that isn’t good or bad, while the creator is the actual monster.”

Volume I of the novel was read on the night of Wednesday, Oct. 31, followed by Volume II on Thursday night and Volume III on Friday night. The entire novel was split into 69 units read by 71 readers.

Readers included students, faculty, alumni, and staff of the University and their relatives, community members of Princeton Township, and faculty members and students from other institutions, as well as several independent artists, playwrights, actors, and sculptors.

Wolfson explained that since Halloween — the designated date for the Frankenread — came during the University’s fall break, it would have been difficult to recruit students and faculty members to read. Instead, the organizers opened up the event to a wider audience.

“I decided to make the university an anchor for a much wider community event, and we have a lot of people coming from the Princeton community and nearby towns,” she said.

Several readers voiced their motivations behind participating in the reading.

“I majored in English, and I’ve always enjoyed Gothic literature from the old days, and of course, ‘Frankenstein’ is immensely classic,” said alumnus Richard Trenner ’70, who read part of chapter VII of Volume I.

For Wood, the experience of hearing a story read aloud drew him into participating.

“I love to hear different voices reading,” said Wood, who read part of chapter VI of Volume II, “I think we don’t read out aloud often enough,” he said.“There’s something about hearing a voice, particularly a voice that’s not your own, including mistakes, including mispronunciations, that can help us see an actual individual human being and what’s going through their mind.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

“I grew up with all the monster movies, but when I first read ‘Frankenstein,’ I thought that this is nothing like the movies, and it became a favorite of mine,” added Renee Szporn, an English and special education teacher at Princeton High School who read part of chapter V of Volume II.

The reading also included intermissions, refreshments, music, and a sculpture of Mary Shelley that Dohm Alley temporarily lent to the event.

Thomas Edison’s 1910 New Jersey-produced silent film “Frankenstein,” which is the first film adaptation of the novel “Frankenstein,” was also screened in the vestibule outside of Chancellor Green Rotunda during the readings on all three nights.

The reading was organized by the Department of English and funded by the David A. Gardner Grant of the Princeton Humanities Council. It took place over three nights, from Wednesday, Oct. 31, to Friday, Nov. 2, between 6:30 and 10:30 p.m. in the Chancellor Green Rotunda.

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