13 May - 9 October 2016
In the summer of 1816, at Cologny, Mary Shelley began her writing of Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, a mythic expression of the anxieties of a world confronted with the growing power of science and technology.
To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the writing of this historically influential work of literature, the Martin Bodmer Foundation presents a major exhibition on the origins of Frankenstein, the perspectives it opens and the questions it raises.
At the Villa Diodati, the residence of Lord Byron that summer, Mary Shelley found the inspiration to write an original horror story and to invent a new literary genre, science fiction. Amid the fantasies, the fears and the hopes of science and medicine in the early nineteenth century, she tells the tale of Victor Frankenstein, who gives life to a corpse by infusing it with the “spark of being.”
A best seller since its first publication in 1818, Mary Shelley’s novel continues to demand attention. The questions it raises remain at the heart of literary and philosophical concerns: the ethics of science, climate change, the technologisation of the human body, the unconscious, human otherness, the plight of the homeless and the dispossessed.
The exposition Frankenstein: Creation of Darkness recreates the beginnings of the novel in its first manuscript and printed forms, along with paintings and engravings that evoke the world of 1816. A variety of literary and scientific works are presented as sources of the novel’s ideas. While exploring the novel’s origins, the exhibition also evokes the social and scientific themes of the novel that remain important in our own day.
Among the one hundred or so objects on display are manuscripts of the novel and of Mary Shelley’s journal, the copy of the first edition annotated by her, the copy she presented to Lord Byron, original oil portraits of Mary Shelley and of Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori, and numerous other manuscripts and first editions of the poets and writers who gathered at the Villa Diodati in 1816. This is the most ambitious exhibition ever devoted to Frankenstein, its world and its ideas.
The exhibition has been the occasion for unprecedented international collaboration between the Martin Bodmer Foundaton and the Bodleian Library of Oxford, the Morgan Library and Museum of New York, the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, the National Portrait Gallery of London, the Biblothèque nationale de France, and the Bibliothèque de Genève.
Curators : Prof. David Spurr et M. Nicolas Ducimetière
Scenography : Mme Stasa Bibic