Recap: Faces of Frankenstein Panel Event
If you missed the event last week, don’t worry: we’ve got it covered.
After plates of cookies and chicken biscuits, and scenes from various Frankenstein films throughout the years projected over-head, panelists across many different disciplines discussed the influence and impact of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s 200 year old novel.
First, we heard from Professor of History here at the College of Charleston, Dr. Scott Poole (who says he’s “been in love with the monster since age 7.”) He introduced the 1931 film, and discussed how the work—how the Monster’s very existence as “a mound of corpses come to life”—calls to multiple different historical events and “nexuses of violence.”
This physical amalgamation of death is representative, Prof Poole said, of the experience of soldiers in war—like the director of the film himself, James Wale, who was a prisoner of war in World War I. He also discussed how the presence of lynch-mobs and othering of the Monster based on physical appearance alone comments on racial issues and prejudices at the time. (And class as well, with the Monster dressed as a laborer or stone mason.)
As Prof Poole said, the film is “a primary document about the fears and anxieties of the era.”
I do think of it as a story that poses questions to us about what we mean when we say monster, who we decide are monsters. It’s also a story that helps us consider our humanity, and our empathy or lack of it. It’s a persistent cracked mirror.
And English Department Professor—and College of Charleston representative on the Medical Humanities Committee at MUSC—Dr. Kathleen Béres Rogers spoke more on her area of expertise: Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel itself.
After the viewing of a clip from the 1931 film, panelists discussed the use and importance of electricity and its connection to the famous phrase “it’s alive!” Prof Rogers explored this idea of “the spark of life,” and how the Romantics were deeply concerned with the soul:
is the soul in the blood? Is it something you’re born with, or do you gain it through living?
These were all questions, she said, that Shelley wrestled with throughout the novel.
And similarly to Prof Poole, Prof Rogers discussed how—even in the novel—the Creature was “described as having yellow skin and black hair,” and was in this way clearly racialized. She later described the scene of his creation, when he reaches out his hand to Dr. Frankenstein, innocent and in need of help. But the Doctor, Prof Rogers explained, only sees the gesture as menacing and a threat. She discussed, too, how the Creature’s monstrosity and feelings of deep confusion at its birth and purpose are meant to mirror directly Dr. Frankenstein himself: “they are two sides of the same person.”
Other experts, from the Medical University of South Carolina, discussed their thoughts on Frankenstein as well:
Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology Dr. Angela Dempsey, who explored the interesting themes of the Monster’s birth and creation (in the absence of a woman)
Director of Diversity and Inclusion Dr. DaNine Fleming, who spoke of how the Monster—like culturally and racially othered minorities—didn’t ask to be there, and was dehumanized and given options of either 1) violence, or 2) isolation.
Associate Dean of Postdoctoral Affairs and Molecular Scientist/Cell Biologist Dr. Ed Krug, who talked about the importance of research integrity and avoidance of scientific research malpractice like that of Frankstein. He referenced the quote in the film that states, “now I know what it feels like to be God,” and described the dangers of scientists “playing God.”
And Dr. Lisa Saladin, who is the Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost at the Medical University of South Carolina, spoke powerful words that bring into context the importance of continuing to study Frankenstein and its influence:
We are not healthcare providers if we do not concern ourselves in the humanities.