In 1851, Mary Shelley was buried at St Peter's Church, Bournemouth, near the new Shelley home, now known as Shelley Manor in Boscombe, with no mention of 'Frankenstein' on her head-stone. By then, her unmentionable novel had left the world of literature altogether and entered the world of popular myth: it was treated by most literary critics - as it was by the local vicar - as a disreputable piece of juvenilia by the wife of the better-known Percy Shelley.
'Frankenstein' had first been published two hundred years ago, on New Year's Day 1818, in an expensive three-volume edition of just 500 copies. The author was 18 when she conceived it, 19 when she expanded her short story into a novel and 20 when it came out, after being rejected by several upmarket publishers.
By 1826, no less than 15 different versions had been performed on stages in England and France, and the F-word had entered the language as shorthand for assorted public anxieties about 'progress'. It was the plays and burlesques rather than the 1818 novel which transformed the story into a significant contributor to the culture, setting the tone for countless film versions in the twentieth century.
At an illustrated lecture, held in the place of Mary Shelley’s burial, St Peter's Church in Bournemouth, Professor Sir Christopher Frayling explored the creation of 'Frankenstein', its adaptations, and its afterlife as myth. A recognised authority on Gothic fiction and film and an award-winning broadcaster on radio and television, Professor Frayling has written extensively on art, design and popular culture. Professor Frayling signed his latest book, 'Frankenstein -the first two hundred years', published by Reel Art Press, for members of the audience after the talk.
Dr Fiona Cosson, Lecturer in Modern History and Assistant Director of the Centre for Media History, said: "It's been so exciting to have Professor Sir Christopher Frayling come to Bournemouth, to the very site of Mary Shelley's grave at St Peters Church, to talk about the history of Frankenstein. Even 200 years after its publication, Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein', and the adaptations it has since inspired, still holds relevance for modern society, from science and nature, to love and rejection. It was a really interesting and entertaining evening!"
Dr Austin Fisher, Principal Academic in Media Production, said: "Professor Sir Christopher Frayling is one of this country's preeminent cultural historians. We are honoured to have him shining a light on this fascinating part of Bournemouth's heritage, and providing an apt forerunner to the Shelley Frankenstein Festival 2018."
Professor Hugh Chignell, Professor of Media History, and Director of the Centre for Media History, added: "It is very satisfying to see the Centre for Media History host this event in Bournemouth, almost 20 years after the first meeting of university media historians in 1998. We were delighted to welcome Sir Christopher to speak to us and so bring together the history of Bournemouth and the history of film.”
The talk was a forerunning event ahead of the Shelley Frankenstein Festival of November 2018, which aims to celebrate 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.