“In the university whither I was going I must form my own friends…”

While attending the American Literature Association conference in Boston, I could not resist the opportunity to visit a fellow Frankenreads project participant, Professor Deidre Lynch of Harvard University, and deliver a copy of Litteraria Pragensia. We had quite a lively chat about Frankenstein, the international impact of Frankenreads, and the history of Harvard and the inherent “creepiness” of older universities. I learned, for example, that Harvard’s holdings include vintage scientific instruments of the exact sort that would have inspired Mary Shelley, which were used to great effect (sorry) in a Monstrous Electrical Show as a part of Harvard’s Frankenreads festivities. It was fun to share our memories of Frankenweek with each other, and we capped our visit, as a couple of Gothicists might, with a trip to the resting place of several Harvard presidents, dignitaries, their wives, and, significantly, those who had been enslaved to them. According to Deidre, it makes an impact on her students to take them on site to impress upon them the reality that in death, we are all the same, waiting, perhaps, for a young scientist to transcend the limits of humanity with our mortal remains as his or her laboratory materials…

I could not think of a better way to spend an afternoon at the oldest American university than to reflect on young Victor’s entrance into, and then rejection of, Ingolstat, which becomes a kind of ironic metaphor for conformity and staidness. Victor, like so many iconoclasts to come, was a college dropout, and yet built and animated his creature without the benefit of a diploma. The question remains: Did he achieve higher learning? What is the purpose of university except to question what we learn there, or to put it to the test in “real” life. The university in its ideal state is, simultaneously, a retreat from the world and a constant reminder that we must find our places in that same world once we leave its ivy gates. Victor’s uneasiness with the university and its enforced conformity compelled him to take chances and create something new and strange, for better or worse, and so the university served its function even though Victor didn’t understand it at the time. Thinking about all the graduates who will celebrate their completed educations in many different disciplines in the month to come, Frankenstein serves as a potent reminder that with knowledge comes responsibility and the need to balance scientific advancement with ethical considerations and historical consciousness. This is yet another reason why Frankenstein endures, and why reading and discussing literature in general should be a part of one’s university experience no matter one’s major or area of study.

After an entire academic year of blogging all things Frankenreads, it is time for me to move on. The blog will remain as an archive, but no further posts will be added. I have enjoyed this project so much, and learned a great deal from my colleagues, both at Nord and in the worldwide academic community, as we worked together to help our students discover Shelley’s novel, and to rediscover it ourselves. I am deeply grateful to my students, colleagues and friends, and to everyone who participated in and supported Frankenreads. Thank you all for making this experience so worthwhile.


Emancipating the Editor: Prague Workshop and Seminar

These last couple of months have been wild, to say the least, but I have been meaning to post some photos from my recent workshop and seminar at the historic Charles University, Prague for some time now. From March 12-15th, Prof. Cassandra Falke of University of Tromsø, recent Nord guest and University of Leuven postdoc Brecht De Groote, and I were invited to meet the Litteraria Pragensia team in Prague as a part of their ongoing KREAS project. Professor Martin Procházka, our intrepid editor-in-chief, was the kindest of hosts, and I learned so much about the illustrious history of the university and of Prague in general from him, Professor Ondřej Pilný, Senior Lecturer Mirka Horová, and Mgr. Petra Johana Poncarová.

We launched the journal, of which I am exceedingly (probably too) proud, presented our research in a debate-filled research workshop, and participated in a graduate seminar — not on Shelley, but on Coleridge, which forced me out of my comfort zone in the best possible way. Here are some snapshots from the events, but they cannot possibly capture the excitement of being in the place and being present with Frankenstein once again.

Please make sure to check out LP’s Facebook for updates on the journal!

Frankenreads: the movie

At very long last, we’ve finally published the Frankenreads documentary film! This film captures as much of the Frankenmadness as we could squeeze into 6 minutes. Seeing these moments again reminds me how fortunate we were to have been invited to take part in the international Frankenreads project. Special thanks go to Roar Wiik, who edited the film, as well as to Terence Dougherty of JeJune, who provided the background music. Mostly, though, I’d really like to thank the students and faculty at Nord University and Bodin High School, and all our friends, who participated in Frankenreads – this film is for you, so share it widely and let the world know that English at Nord University is committed to building a serious and student-centered research culture.

Frankenreads: the afterlife

It’s been a couple of months of very hard work, but I’m so pleased to be able to announce that our Frankenreads efforts have been continuing in the background. I’ve been editing a special edition of Litteraria Pragensia with my colleagues Cassandra Falke in Tromsø and Martin Procházka at Charles University, Prague. It went to press yesterday! To celebrate, and as a part of his own research endeavors, Martin has invited Cassandra, Brecht de Groote of University of Leuven (and of unhallowed fame!) and me to Prague for a workshop and journal launch. I cannot wait to visit Prague – I’m working my way through Kafka (a secret black hole in my reading repetoire) now in preparation. Here is the program for the workshop:

It’s ambitious, but focused on what is emerging as our central idea about Frankenstein, that the novel both resists and invites reader interpretation through its numerous structural and thematic innovations.

unhallowed: the seminar

We’re delighted to host, along with our colleagues in the Nord University research group Humanities, Culture, and Education, a research seminar that ties together several of the larger themes we’ve been exploring with Frankenreads this semester.

Frankenstein and the Gothic mood infusing the text has inspired quite a few of us at Nord University to (re)consider certain cultural and academic touchstones, and we have invited our colleague from University of Leuven, Belgium, Dr. Brecht de Groote, to join us for the occasion. His talk, on the idea of lateness in literature and education, is based in part on his entry into the Frankenstein-themed special edition of Litteraria Pragensia that I have been editing with Dr. Cassandra Falke at University of Tromsø, and it’s sure to be a highlight. In addition, photojournalist Roar Wiik and I will debut a short Frankenreads documentary video, featuring photos, video, and participant interviews. Local students, faculty, and interested public are most welcome to join us on Monday as we celebrate “the unhallowed” in literature, arts, and education!

Thoughts on Margaret Saville

At my recent lecture on Frankenstein, I mentioned the novel’s famously contorted narrative structure:

I’m particularly interested in the way that Mrs. Margaret Saville functions as the unseen, unheard, but ultimate arbiter of narrative, for it is only through her release of Captain Walton’s letters that the story is known to us. As part of the forthcoming special edition of Litteraria Pragensia, which I’m co-editing along with my colleague at the University of Tromsø, Professor Cassandra Falke, I have written an article that addresses my reading of Margaret in more detail and with a narratologist’s eye, a snippet of which is reproduced below:

(from: Hanssen, Jessica Allen. “Unnatural” Narratology, Frame Narrative, and Intertextuality in Frankenstein. Litteraria Pragensia, Volume 28, number 56. (December 2018).

At the outset, there is a readerly quality to the text due to its presentation as letters from Captain Walton to his sister Margaret Saville. It’s a savvy choice, because it allows for a third person, omnipresent point of view, but also with all of the advantages of the first-person confessional. Time here is linear and conflated, to account for the actions of just one person. Several weeks and even months go between Walton’s letters to Margaret, where his movements and encounters are faithfully recorded. And yet, I am called in the interstices to ask, what was Margaret doing during those weeks? Does Walton even care? Walton makes sure to describe his own exploits to her, in explicit and rich detail, but any mention of her own are missing: does she exist as anything other than a convenient recipient? Margaret’s story is an unwritten one, but it still exists, outside of the margins of Frankenstein, as an essential element of the framing device. Margaret is more of an abstraction than a character, the perfectly silent, but devoted, woman, but her presence guides the narrative as we understand it; it is all filtered through her as its intended recipient. Without the ability to re-create Margaret’s movements during the interstitial spaces between letters, the reader is thus left wondering: is her life equally or even at all adventuresome? Does she have a friend as dear as Victor to Walton, to tell her story to and make her “blood congea(l) with horror,” (Shelley 151) as Walton boldly assumes that his words do on her behalf?

Clearly, Margaret is the kind of educated, compassionate, and sophisticated woman to whom the story of Frankenstein would have been compelling, which in itself is interesting, but this can only be inferred indirectly, through Walton’s choice of her as recipient and last of the line of narratees. We learn, only after the entirety of Frankenstein has passed, and thus her service to Walton is completed, that she has a “husband, and lovely children,” (Shelley 151) but neither of these are likely suitable further recipients of the tale. This is, perhaps, intentional on Walton’s part: Walton intended to whisper his horrible tale – and the horrible promise he has made to succeed in achieving the creature’s demise – into her Pactolus ears, thus unloading his burden. The simple fact that we the reader engage Frankenstein only as mediated through Margaret’s permission, becomes, then a subversive act of narrative. Just as the creature’s female companion still exists, albeit in parts at the bottom of the sea, Margaret’s lack of characterization becomes more powerful than her physical presence could have been, a negative characterization in the sense of negative space in the visual arts. We are forced to create her might-have-been for ourselves, a truly writerly experience where highly significant parts of the linear narrative are not explicitly narrated but are nevertheless a part of the novel’s matrix of meaning. In that sense, we do what Victor could not bring himself to do: we create a woman.

Work Cited:
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein. Edited J. Paul Hunter. Norton, 2012. p. 151.

Frankenreads: the afterparty

Now that the read-a-thon has ended, it’s time for the zombies to feast.

“They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From The Dead!! Ahhhh!”

Our English students, along with ISU and several other student organizations, have created Nord’s first-ever Zombie Walk. Do you think you have what it takes to make it through the basement alive? Will your team defend you from an eminent zombie attack? Or will you end up trapped in Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory…

Send your Zombie Walk pictures to frankenstein200@nord.no and we’ll post them right here.

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It has begun…

Frankenreads is under way! Today the English Department and our friends are reading the entire novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, 10 minutes at a time, as a part of our Frankenreads project. We have over 60 faculty, students, and staff taking turns reading this Gothic classic.

We began at 7 o’clock sharp, and we early risers started our Halloween off right:

    This post will be updated throughout the day with new reports and updates.

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UPDATE (10:50): Our high school students have arrived! Things are starting to get intense…Frankenstein and his creature are about to meet on Mont Blanc!

UPDATE: (2:30): Did you see the ISU flash mob?! Hundreds of students turned out at noon to join Frankenreads in our celebration. (Now added!) We’re still going strong here at Akademika, three hours to go…

UPDATE: (3:04): When Dr. Patrik Bye gets emotional, he gets very emotional indeed:

We’ll keep the great pictures coming: you can too, just email them to frankenstein200@nord.no and I’ll update the gallery.

UPDATE: (4:45): The read-a-thon was featured on Nord’s Twitter:

UPDATE: (5:25): Our last Frankenreader hits the stage:

“Continual food for discovery and wonder”

As you prepare for tomorrow’s read-a-thon and zombie walk, you might want to think about feeding your Frankenstein at the university cafeteria, Alexandria coffee bar, and Pennalet café at some point during the day. Pennalet will serve a special pie inspired by Frankenstein, and the main cafeteria is preparing both lunch and dinner inspired by the Bavarian and Arctic settings of the novel. And to keep you energized for the read-a-thon, Alexandria will serve two Halloween coffees, one “devilish” in taste and one inspired by the creature’s love of berries and nuts. We’re really delighted to have Studentinord as project partners, and we hope you’ll take the time to enjoy a repast to restore and inspirit you at one of their outlets tomorrow.

Visible Objects, Part 2

The Nord University library exhibition “Frankenversions: 200 Years of Adapting Frankenstein” has been underway for the last week, and I’m delighted to say that we have had a great deal of visits to our display. It’s become a bit of a local attraction, in fact, and several classes have made their way to see it as a group. One group, of working schoolteachers from various areas of our region who are getting additional English teaching certification, came as a part of their regularly scheduled seminar, but I don’t think they fully knew what to expect when they showed up in Bodø that morning (the experience of the delightfully random, of course, being at the very heart of teaching)…

(Photo courtesy of Patrick Murphy, Nord English Department Nesna)

We also had the pleasure of two first grade classes from our local elementary school, Mørkvedmarka skole, stopping by for a look at the Van der Graaff electricity generator and a taste of Franken Berry “breakfast cereal”. Dr. Ana Borissova was on hand to demonstrate the powerful forces that brought the creature to life.

I was also there, mainly just to say hello but also for an impromptu q&a. I was quite impressed by some of the questions these inquisitive six-year-olds threw at me, and one of them, “Why is he a monster?”, is still turning around in my mind, as it’s exactly the same question that today’s readers and scholars are left asking, 200 years after Mary Shelley first asked it in novelistic form. That a child who had never even heard of this text until that moment would so quickly think to ask one of its central questions speaks strongly to the universality of Frankenstein’s themes.

“Frankenversions” is on until November 1st, and the online exhibition “Fire and Ice: Frankenstein and the Arctic” will be available even longer, and is well worth a look, the icy Arctic winds making, perhaps, monsters of us all as the winter darkness approaches…