Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature

Frankenstein: Penetrando en los secretos de la naturaleza

November 7, 2023 – December 16, 2023

In the Frankenstein film, Boris Karloff’s moving portrayal of the speechless creature, and the enduring image of the monster with his flattened head, surgical scars, and neck bolts, deeply affected audiences.

Boris Karloff as the Monster in Frankenstein, 1931 Courtesy Universal Studios Licensing LLC

En la pelicula Frankenstein, La conmovedora interpretación de Boris Karloff como una criatura sin habla y la perdurable imagen del monstruo con la cabeza aplanada, las cicatrices de la cirugía y los pernos en el cuello afectaron profundamente al público.

Boris Karloff como el monstruo en Frankenstein, 1931, Cortesía de Universal Studios Licensing LLC

The National Library of Medicine’s traveling exhibition, Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature, explores the power of the novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus to expose hidden fears of science and technology as human efforts to penetrate the secrets of nature continue. In 1816, Mary Shelley conceived a story about a scientist who creates a creature that can think and feel but is monstrous to the eye. Spurned by all, the embittered creature turns into a savage killer. Shelley’s story served as a metaphor for apprehensions about scientific advancement that continue to resonate today.

This bilingual exhibition is also presented in Spanish.

Italian physician Giovanni Aldini (1762–1834) administered electricity to the bodies of decapitated animals and humans and produced twitching and other physical movements. Audiences believed these movements signaled the potential of this radical new technology.

Illustration from Essai Théorique et Expérimentale sur le Galvanisme, tome premier (Theoretical and Practical Essay on Galvanism, first volume), Giovanni Aldini, 1804. Courtesy National Library of Medicine

El médico italiano Giovanni Aldini (1762–1834) aplicaba electricidad al cuerpo de animales y humanos decapitados, provocando en ellos contorsiones y otros efectos físicos. El público creía que esos movimientos indicaban el potencial de una radical nueva tecnología.

Ilustración de Essai Théorique et Expérimentale sur le Galvanisme, tome premier (Ensayo teórico y experimental sobre el galvanismo, primer volumen), 1804. Cortesía de la Biblioteca Nacional de Medicina de los EE. UU

On a dark and stormy night in 1816, Mary Shelley began writing a story that posed profound questions about individual and societal responsibility for other people.

To make her point, the young novelist used the scientific advances of her era and the controversy surrounding them as a metaphor for issues of unchecked power and self-serving ambition, and their effect on the human community.

Since that time, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus has become one of the Western world’s most enduring myths. The story provides a framework for discussions of medical advances, which challenge our traditional understanding of what it means to be human.

Inspired by a “waking dream,” in which she envisioned “the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life,” Mary began writing Frankenstein.

Portrait of Mary Shelley, ca. 1851-1893. Courtesy The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Inspirada por un “sueño despierto” en el que visualizó “el horrendo fantasma de un hombre acostado que luego, por el funcionamiento de un potente motor, muestra signos de vida”, Mary empezó a escribir Frankenstein.

Retrato de Mary Shelley, c. 1851–1893. Cortesía de la Biblioteca Bodleiana, Universidad de Oxford
The English actor Thomas Potter Cooke played the role of the monster in Presumption. During the performances, his face was painted green, his lips were stained black, and he wore blue body paint.

T. P. Cooke as the monster in Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein, Thomas Charles Wageman (c. 1787–1863). Courtesy The Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelly and His Circle, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

El actor inglés Thomas Potter Cooke interpretó el papel del monstruo en Pretensión. Se pintó la cara de verde, los labios manchados de negro y se aplicó pintura azul en el cuerpo.

T. P. Cooke como el monstruo en Pretensión o el destino de Frankenstein, Thomas Charles Wageman (c. 1787–1863). Cortesía de la Colección de Shelley de Carl H. Pforzheimer y su Círculo, Biblioteca Pública de Nueva York, Fundaciones Astor, Lenox y Tilden

The National Library of Medicine produced this exhibition and companion website.

Esta exhibición fue producida por la Biblioteca Nacional de Medicina de los Estados Unidos.