Jun 10

Spitfire Review: Living Literature Frankenstein

Today I’m reviewing something a little different. Instead of reviewing a novel or a film I’m reviewing a party I went to… a literacy party. Every year the School Of Advanced Studies at the University Of London throw a Living Literature party in which a famous novel is brought to life.

In 2016 Senate House was transformed into the prohibition era as we re-created The Great Gatsby. We learnt about illegal alcohol brewed at the time and more about the author of The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald.

In 2017 we learnt about Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and discovered that your body doesn’t have five senses it actually has twenty two.

Two weeks ago I attended the Frankenstein party where we discussed Victorian ghost stories and the first Science Fiction novel.

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I went as a standard Victorian gentleman but I had a cold so I felt like a zombie. Perfect, right?

The reception area was decorated to look like the Artic where the story of Frankenstein begins and ends. We were greeted by scientists dressed in white lab coats and safety goggles offering us a variety of potions (drinks). Then we dissected (and by that I meant eat) cake made to resemble the human body. Eyeballs were optional with each serving.

Then we had the welcoming speech lead by Sarah Churchill, organiser of the Living Literature events. After we watched a Beatbox performance by the Battersea Arts Centre’s BAC Beatbox Academy about the human body we then met MC Mary Shelly our host of the evening. (The idea being she would be giving announcements throughout the evening about what events were starting where.)

The first workshop we visited was a How To Build a Monster Challenge. You were tasked to build a monster using any of the materials available, wool, lego, plastic, doll parts and a 3D printer. I settled for the paper and pencil and created this monstrosity.

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I would like to point out that I’m a writer, not an artist.

Then we entered the Movie Mash Theatre which was an examination of the history and  different interpretations of Frankenstein’s monster. (Quick side note: Frankenstein is the name of the creator, the monster he creates, often mislabeled Frankenstein is not given a name throughout the text and is simply referred to as the monster).  Mary Shelly is credited as writing the first Science Fiction novel with Frankenstein. There is nothing supernatural in the book, the monster is created through scientific means. There are several notable differences between the original novel and the first movie adaptation. For example although in the films Frankenstein is generally bought to life via a lighting strike, in the novel Frankenstein doesn’t tell us how the monster was brought to life, he was scared that somebody would try to repeat his experiment. Also the character of Igor, most commonly portrayed as a hunchback, doesn’t appear in the book nor does Frankenstein’s line ‘It’s alive!’ There was also discussion into what actually is Frankenstein. Is he a Zombie? Is he an undead creature? Is he still human?

After I’d finished the  free popcorn I took part in a rather interesting experiment. I was given an LED candle, taken into a darken room and asked to read three extracts from a blood stained parchment. The first extract was from the view of the office window from one of the professors leading the experiment, the second was a piece of prose from a horror novel and the third was a blood curling extract from Frankenstein in which Victor attempts to shoot his creation after it has murdered his wife. I was attached to a machine that read my heart rate, skin temperature, body temperature and registered my movements. The objective of the experiment was to see how your body changed when you read scary pieces of work. Generally speaking your heartbeat would increase and you would experience an adrenaline rush but this didn’t happen to me. I place this down to two reasons:

1) I had a cold so my body was all over the shop anyway.

2) I’ve read lots of Stephen King. Compared to him Frankenstein is nothing.

These are my results

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The green line was my movement The red line was my body temperature (the spike was due to me taking the machine off my wrist while it was still turned on) The white line was my heart beat

Then we attended a ghost story session. Once again I was led into a darkened room, this time decorated with skulls and candles and two actors recounted the tale of how the idea of Frankenstein was created.

Mary Shelly, Percy Shelley, Mary Godwin, Claire Clairmont, Lord Byron and his Doctor John William Polidori travelled to Geneva in May 1816. Each has their own reason for attending and each were an outcast to British society. There were also lots of complicated relationships within the group. Reportedly Percy Shelley and Lord Byron both loved Claire Clairmont despite the fact that Percy was married to Mary and Lord Byron was in a homosexual relationship with John Polidori.  It’s possible that Percy Shelley and Claire Clairmont had an affair the year before the trip. Mary may also have been pregnant at the time with Percy Shelley’s child and John Polidori, Lord Byron’s doctor and lover, lusted after Mary.

1816 was known as the year without a summer and the group faced torrential rainfall during their trip. One night, during a thunderstorm Lord Byron suggested the group write their own ghost stories. Mary was struggling for an idea and overheard her husband, Lord Byron and John Polidori having a conversation about reanimating corpses. That night Mary had a dream of a dead body being brought back to life and hence the story was started and completed the following year. It is unclear if the group deemed her the winner of their competition but I believe that her work is more well known and has had a wider impact on our society than Lord Byron’s.

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A big thank you to University of London, School of Advanced Study for putting on these wonderful events and no doubt I’ll attend next year’s event.

Take care all!

 

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