9. Frankenstein.

It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs. (38)

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a story that seems familiar to everyone—even people who haven’t read the novel (or seen any of the movie adaptations). But the novel fleshes out the story that everyone is familiar with (a scientist creates a creature out of dead parts, releasing a force of havoc and destruction upon the world) in a number of intriguing ways. Suzanne and Chris discuss how the novel tackles creation, parenting, corporeality, nature, and death—as well as how thoroughly it is connected to Paradise Lost, and why it has inspired so many adaptations.

Show Notes.

We read the original 1818 text of Frankenstein. It‘s also available on Project Gutenberg or as a free audiobook on Librivox.

The New Annotated Frankenstein.

Frankenstein: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds.

The Strange and Twisted Life of Frankenstein, which includes some information about racialized imaginings of the creature.

The Science of Life and Death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Next time: Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass. Also on Gutenberg and Librivox.

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8b. Bonus: Anthony Oliveira on Paradise Lost.

A bonus to our episode on Paradise Lost! We are joined by Anthony Oliveira, a writer, film curator, and cultural critic who received his PhD in English from the University of Toronto. He is also the host of The Devil’s Party, a podcast that has been slowly and lovingly working its way through Paradise Lost, a hundred or so lines each week. Anthony joins us to talk about queer and trans readings of Paradise Lost, the nitty gritty about Milton’s theology, and making Paradise Lost accessible to readers that often have been excluded.

Show Notes.

Anthony Oliveira on Twitter (a must-follow) and on the web.

Anthony has a beautiful new memoir on Hazlitt.

A quick primer on monism.

William Empson: Milton’s God.

C.S. Lewis: Out of the Silent Planet.

Isaac Asimov’s Annotated Paradise Lost.

John Milton: “Methought I saw my late espoused saint”.

Philip Pullman: The Amber Spyglass, etc.

(We all make mistakes: “arma” is the first word of Aeneid, not the Iliad.)

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8. Paradise Lost.

. . . Farewel happy Fields
Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
[ . . . ] Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.

John Milton’s Paradise Lost uses haunting, powerful poetry to retell the biblical story of Adam and Eve’s sin and exile from the Garden of Eden. But Chris and Suzanne still struggle with Milton’s personality and theology. They discuss the characters, including a famously compelling depiction of Satan; Milton’s use of other texts, including the Metamorphoses; and the text’s troubling gender politics.

Show Notes.

John Milton’s Paradise Lost, also available at Project Gutenberg.

The Tree of Knowledge, by Eva Figes, is a novel about Milton’s daughter Deborah [NYTimes review].

Thoughts on Milton and his daughters.

More images of Milton and his daughters.

Everybody wants a piece of Milton.

Gustave Doré’s illustrations for Paradise Lost.

William Blake’s illustrations for Paradise Lost.

Blake’s illuminated book Milton: A Poem.

Next episode: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (the 1818 version). Also on Project Gutenberg.

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7. Inferno.

I am the way into the doleful city,
I am the way into eternal grief,
I am the way to a forsaken race.

Justice it was that moved my great creator;
Divine omnipotence created me,
And highest wisdom joined with primal love.

Before me nothing but eternal things
Were made, and I shall last eternally.
Abandon every hope, all you who enter.

I saw these words spelled out in somber colors
Inscribed along the ledge above a gate;
‘Master,’ I said, ‘these words I see are cruel.’
(Inf 3.1-12)

Dante’s Inferno, the first section of the Divine Comedy, is a medieval poem in which our author is given a guided tour of Hell. He encounters famous historical figures as well as people he knew personally, while his tour guide (the Roman poet Vergil) explains the logic of the Hell’s organization and the divine justice of its terrible punishments. Suzanne and Chris retrace these steps and talk about their favourite passages in all their upsetting cruelty and beauty.

Show Notes.

The Inferno as translated by Mark Musa, Charles Singleton, or Ciaran Carson. Also available free online in Allen Mandelbaum’s translation (with useful notes by Teodolinda Barolini) at Digital Dante.

The Holkham manuscript, one of only four fully illustrated copies of Dante’s Divine Comedy from the fourteenth century, is available online through the Bodleian library. It’s worth exploring its illustrations.

Gustave Doré’s famous nineteenth-century illustrations are also fabulous.

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s statue of Ugolino and His Sons.

More artworks inspired by the Inferno.

Caroline Bergvall reading “Via”, hosted at her PennSound page. The poem is in her collection Fig.

Next time: John Milton’s Paradise Lost, also available at Project Gutenberg.

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