Film screening, 30 June 2016: Frankenstein (1931)

When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw—with shut eyes, but acute mental vision,—I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion.

Mary Shelley’s recollection of her moment of inspiration for Frankenstein is every bit as gothic as the immortal scene of unnatural creation found within the pages of the novel itself.  When it appeared in 1818, Shelley’s debut novel was a sensation, leading reviewers both to celebrate it as a work of ‘originality’ and ‘extreme interest’ and to denounce it as ‘an uncouth story, in the taste of the German novelists, trenching in some degree on delicacy, setting probability at defiance’. The germ of this gothic tale is to be found in an evening of reading French ghost stories by the Byron–Shelley circle, who were sojourning during the summer of 1816 in the Villa Diodati near Generva. So entertained were the companions that they agreed to a ghost-story competition of their own. While Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and John Polidori conjured their own quite chilling spectres, they were eclipsed by the dark and brooding tale written by Percy’s 18-year-old mistress, Mary Godwin, which has gained a monumental, unnatural life of its own over the past two centuries.

Frankenstein1To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the novel’s composition this June, we are delighted to offer another innovation of the BookTalk formula: a screening of Universal Pictures’ iconic 1931 film adaptation of the novel, directed by James Whale.  Unlike the articulate and philosophical Creature of the novel, Boris Karloff’s monster is a mute, shambling being that is by turns destructive and sympathetic. More than any other adaptation—perhaps even more than the novel—it is this version of the story that dominates our popular consciousness today, inspiring numerous later adaptations and countless Halloween costumes.

As well as the screening, this evening’s BookTalk will feature four speakers who explore a number of different aspects of the Frankenstein myth:

  • Dr Anthony Mandal (Cardiff University), will introduce the screening by briefly talking about the novel’s composition and the film’s history.
  • Following the screening (and a short break), Dr Maximilaan van Woudenberg (Sheridan College, Canada) will discuss the curious history of the ghost stories that inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein.
  • Dr Lisa Stead (University of Exeter) will turn to the film, and how it fits in with genre, audiences and the Hollywood studio system of the 1930s.
  • Finally, Megen de Bruin-Molé (Cardiff University) will explore the legacy of Frankenstein, which continues to haunt popular literature and media to the present day.

The main event (6.30pm) will be preceded by a reception with tea, coffee and biscuits at 6pm in Cardiff University’s School of Optometry and Vision Sciences, Maindy Road, Cardiff CF24 4HQ. This event is jointly hosted with the Cardiff BookTalk.

All welcome! Book your tickets via Eventbrite by clicking here.

Jannat Ahmed, ‘The Men of Regency Romance’

Jannat Ahmed, a third-year English Literature undergraduate at Cardiff University, adapts her paper from the inaugural CRECS Conference for the CRECS blog.

Jeffrey Weeks in his book, Sex, Politics and Society (2012: 49), writes:

From the 1860s there was a new cult of masculinity in the public schools. Thomas Arnold’s emphasis on spiritual autonomy and intellectual maturity in the first half of the century was increasingly replaced by a new stress on physical characteristics, on the demonstration of pure willpower. […] The model of the early public school was the monastery. The model of the later public school was definitely military. While women were increasingly associated with weakness and emotion, by 1860 men no longer dared embrace in public or shed tears, precisely because it was a mark of femininity. A variety of male clubs sprang up which emphasised the elements of male bonding. And with the new stress on games and militaristic training came transparent chimes of imperialism. Sexuality, race and empire were inextricably bound together.

In light of Weeks’ distinction between the judgement of men pre- and post-1860, I read Jane Austen, a lauded novelist of the long eighteenth century against Georgette Heyer, an overlooked novelist of the twentieth century.

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Fig. 1. Jane Austen (1775–1817)

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Fig. 2. Georgette Heyer (1902–1974)

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Ella Morrish, ‘Hannah More: The Politics of Liberty’

Ella Morrish, a third-year English Literature undergraduate at Cardiff University, adapts her paper from the inaugural CRECS Conference for the CRECS Blog.

‘… the most sensible females, when they turn their attention to political subjects, are more uniformly on the side of liberty than the other sex.’—George Dyer, ‘On Liberty’ (1792)

But what do we mean by liberty?

John Barrell regards the late eighteenth century as a period of linguistic uncertainty, when ‘every moral and political word had a thousand shades of meaning’ (Barrell, 2000). Supposedly, the government were publishing manipulated definitions of certain words in newspapers so that radicals, who had used alternative definitions, appeared incapable of using language correctly. So, as Barrell understands, we can regard the political conflict of the period ‘as a conflict, among other things, about the meanings of words’. And consequently, the interpretation or manipulation of terms such as democrat, equality or liberty became a politically loaded act. With this in mind, I have been investigating how liberty is defined within the work of Hannah More, exposing the complexity of her political identity. Continue reading