Halloween brings out the ghoul and monster in both kids and adults, and a perennial favorite is Mary Shelley's ground-breaking character, Frankenstein. Acknowledged as the first science fiction novel, Frankenstein has hit another milestone this year: first published in 1818, it turns 200, and has enjoyed popularity virtually from the moment of its first printing. University of South Carolina English professor and Shelley expert Paula Feldman said the story speaks to the mysterious fears of our nature, and thus has remained popular through the centuries. She revealed that the inspiration for Frankenstein came from Shelley's own life. The deaths of several people around her, including her mother (giving birth to Shelley herself) and her first-born child, planted the wish that she could bring people back from the dead. A dream that her baby was restored to life by rubbing it before the fire was the spark that inspired the idea that was to become Frankenstein.
USC's Hollings Special Collections Library is hosting an exhibit on Frankenstein through Dec. 21, featuring a first edition of the book from 1818 and a revision from 1831, among many other artifacts. Curator Jeanne Britton said stage productions of Frankenstein helped the characters' popularity as well as the book itself. It still resonates with people, she said, because anybody can identity with the monster's isolation and with being misunderstood (Feldman refers to "the creature," declining to call him a "monster" specifically because he was misunderstood, and not malevolent - at least not until society's mistreatment made him so).
Feldman said the novel has inspired countless science fiction writers over the years, giving them the freedom to imagine an alternative universe.