‘The Monster’s Library’ Student Exhibition Wins National Recognition

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The Monster’s Library, an exhibition curated by students enrolled in the course Frankenstein: Origins and Afterlives, has been recognized with a notable citation as part of the Association of College and Research Libraries Rare Books and Manuscripts (RBMS) Section’s 2019 Katharine Kyes Leab and Daniel J. Leab American Book Prices Current Exhibition Awards. The course was taught by Amy Pawl, senior lecturer in English, and Corinna Treitel, associate professor of history and director of the medical humanities minor. The Monster’s Library was on display at Olin Library during November 2017­ through March 2018. 

“The committee felt that this entry deserves a citation for its clever and self-referential library-oriented thematic structure as a framework to explore Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” said Anna Chen, chair of the RBMS Exhibition Awards Committee. “In particular, the committee wishes to recognize the extensively collaborative work underpinning this joint project, which emerged from a student-curated exhibition as part of a university course.”

As part of their course work, which took place in the fall semester of 2017, students were challenged to think about the Mary Shelley’s novel in a new way. The exhibition’s catalog notes: “It is clear that [Shelley’s] work is ... the result of years of serious and expansive reading. Shelley’s subsequent reference to her completed book as her ‘hideous progeny’ invites us to see the parallels between her creative work and Victor Frankenstein’s. Just as the creature’s body is made up of previously scattered parts, Shelley’s creation is a book made up of other books.”

Working with Rare Books Curator Cassie Brand of the University Libraries, students selected works for exhibition that underscored the “remarkable intertextuality of Shelley’s project,” creating three “libraries” that told this story. As described in the catalog, those collections are:

  • “The Creature’s Library,” which consists of the volumes that the abandoned creature finds in a satchel and uses to craft his humanity in the absence of his creator;
  • “Victor Frankenstein’s Library,” which collects scientific and poetic works referenced by that creator; and 
  • “The Author’s Library,” which gathers influential writings by Shelley’s family members and others.

Writing about Goethe’s protagonist in The Sorrows of Young Werther, one of the books Frankenstein’s Creature finds soon after Victor has abandoned him, student curator Fritzi James observes, “Werther’s plight seems to highlight both the Creature’s unfulfilled desire for a mate and Frankenstein’s inability to be with his own love interest. Ultimately, Werther provides the audience with a sympathetic character to ground the Creature’s own temperament in, casting the Creature’s feelings of deep isolation and suffering into an identifiably mundane, human mold.”