Today Frankenstein’s reputation as a “monster story” has perhaps partially eclipsed the rich history of scientific inquiry, medical progress, and social evolution that underlies the text. Frankenstein was published in 1818, a time when a strong sense of scientific curiosity permeated academic circles and the general public alike. Popular topics of interest included understanding the so-called “secrets of nature” and probing the elusive boundary between life and death. Scientists and physicians sought to better understand the definition of life through the study of human anatomy and physiology, dissections of other organisms, experiments involving electricity, and other medical and scientific investigations, such as attempts to resuscitate victims of drownings. Author Mary Shelley was among those fascinated by this pursuit of “the secrets of nature,” an interest clearly reflected in her novel Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus. From Victor Frankenstein’s fervent efforts in his laboratory to the monster’s musings on the essential properties of life, the book poses profound questions about science, ethics, and society.
A new travelling exhibit that examines these intersecting subjects is now on display in the lobby of the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library. Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature was developed and produced by the National Library of Medicine; the exhibit explores the life of author Mary Shelley, her remarkable novel, and the defining era of scientific inquiry and social change in which it was written. An online version of the exhibit with additional digital content can be found on the website of the National Library of Medicine. The exhibit will be at the Health Sciences Library until March 24, 2017. Accompanying the exhibit panels are anatomy texts from the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library’s rare books collection and 19th century instruments from the Library’s medical artifacts collection. For questions or comments, contact Historical Collections & Services.