Finally a book that is everything it claims to be! “The Lady And Her Monsters” a perfect blend of dissection, real life Frankensteins, and Mary Shelley’s life. My affinity for Mary Shelley began when I read “Frankenstein” during a college English class, which was further strengthened by the fact that we have the same birthday, albeit over 200 years apart. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed how the classic horror story of “Frankenstein” always seems to evolve with the times. The latest example being the hilarious musical adaptation! This book was no different. By merging these three different segments together, the author creates a wonderfully fresh new look at the death and medical revolutions that surrounded, and no doubt influenced, Shelley during the time she wrote “Frankenstein.”
I was surprised to learn that there were several scientists who were attempting to bring the dead back to life just prior to when “Frankenstein” was written. Italian doctor Galvani was the first, attempting to reanimate dead frogs with electricity. Such medical displays were prominent in English hospitals, and were a great source of controversy. Shelley was also keenly aware of death since her home was dangerously close to the gallows where public hangings were still a source of entertainment to Londoners of all social classes. Like the theories presented in “Stiff”, Montillo also reaffirms that many doctors felt that medicine could only advance through a “hands on” approach to anatomy. Since this could only be accomplished through dissection, dead bodies were a hot commodity. Interestingly, doctors were not permitted to obtain the corpses themselves, rather, they had to purchase them from some else. (Sort of a body broker!) Shelley addressed this aspect in her novel by having Dr. Frankenstein obtain the monster’s body, which showed that he was so desperate and crazed that he blatantly broke these medical codes. The author also provides a detailed biography of Shelley’s life. This not only includes the famed story challenge that prompted her to write “Frankenstein”, but also the loss of Shelley’s own child, which unquestionably inspired the themes of abandonment and abortion present in the novel.
For anyone who is interested in Mary Shelley or the idea of “Frankenstein” this book was not disappoint! I really enjoyed it!