Fiona Sampson

Feeling sorry for Frankenstein’s monster is hardly new

In the last couple of days my Twitter feed, always a cheerful place, has been more full of jokes than usual. The source of the mirth is Exeter University academic Nick Groom, and his ex cathedra pronouncements on Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. According to Groom, it is possible – gasp – to read Frankenstein’s creature as a sympathetic character. Whatever next? Will the Times and the Sun hold the front page while Groom invites us to see Mr Darcy as sexy or, going out on a limb, Oliver Twist as an intensely sympathetic portrayal of an abused and abandoned child?

Journalists have long rubbed their hands in glee at “don states the obvious” stories. Mostly these take down scientific research that, however painstaking, has ended up agreeing with common sense. This time, it’s the opposite. This time, it’s journalists who have swallowed the obvious that’s being stated by an academic, and have given him oodles of free publicity in the process. And that, of course, is the point.

A check of the publications listed on Nick Groom’s university page reveals that in recent years he’s prepared a number of editions of canonical works, mostly not much read today. Of course, Frankenstein, issued in yet another edition, is a chance to break out of this scholarly rut. At last, a book everyone’s heard of! And someone – possibly, to be fair, not the guy himself – has been an absolute whizz at getting coverage.

Gentle reader, you’ve got better things to do than research what Nick Groom has been saying. But I’ve just spent four years working on a biography of Mary Shelley, and so I’m pretty fascinated by this. In three pieces in the national press Groom is credited with a “new critical reading” of Frankenstein, which suggests that it’s millennials, unlike everyone for the last two hundred years, who have got the point.

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