"Hunger is good discipline." -Ernest Hemingway
Rounding out the month(s)-long dedication to recipes inspired by Halloween stories is Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus. I’m assuming most of you know that Victor Frankenstein is actually the scientist who creates his monster, which goes unnamed in Mary Shelley’s novel. The novel has gone down as one of the greatest horror works of all time, inspiring countless pop culture adaptations, from a Thomas Edison film to a rock instrumental.
Most of us think of Frankenstein’s monster (whom I’ll call Frankie from this point forward for simplicity’s sake) as a violent, horrific beast, but in Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankie is actually an intelligent, eloquent, emotional soul whose greatest desire is basic human empathy and a sense of belonging. Frankie doesn’t initiate his reign of terror until Frankenstein refuses to create a female counterpart for Frankie, shunning Frankie to a life of isolation. Prior to this, Frankie’s grotesque exterior is his only crime. Frankenstein can be read multiple ways: as the consequences of man’s attempt to play God, as the dangers of pushing scientific boundaries, or even as a Female Gothic, which isn’t too surprising considering Mary Wollstonecraft is Shelley’s mother. But I like to read the story as a discomfiting illumination of the ugliness within us all and a reminder that a kind, well-intended soul is more beautiful than any physical aesthetic.
One of Frankenstein’s most interesting reincarnations is a postmodern Hypertext novel called Patchwork Girl by Shelley Jackson, a choose-your-own adventure of sorts in which the reader stitches together the narrative while Mary Shelley simultaneously creates a female monster, who ends up falling in love with her creator. For a discussion of the relationship between text and the corporeal form as well as the legitimacy of Hypertext as a literary medium, check out Jackson’s presentation from MIT’s Media in Transition project.
“Since the internet seems to be making possible a gorgeous excess of personal syntactical or neural maps, like travel brochures for the brain. What results isn’t necessarily worth the trip, but some of it will be: art forms take shape around our ability to perceive beauty, but our ability to perceive beauty also takes shape around what forms become possible. Hypertext is making possible a new kind of beauty, and creating the senses to perceive it with.”
Though the Hypertext novel hasn’t quite yet replaced our nostalgic fondness for traditional books, in an age where material on the Internet is the lifeblood coursing through the heart of our culture, it would indeed be more surprising if artists DIDN’T use it as a creative medium. If you want to experience a simpler (free) hypertext novel, check out Jackson’s My Body, a shorter work exploring our intimate interactions with our bodies and the journey to overcoming the inextricable insecurities of the human form. (I especially enjoyed the Vagina page.)
The National Endowment for the Humanities is funding The Shelley-Godwin Archive, an online, digitized collection of the handwritten manuscripts of Percy Blythe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, William Godwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft. Here you can explore Mary Shelley’s collaboration with her husband on the drafts of Frankenstein.
In just a few years, Frankenstein will celebrate its 200th birthday, and our fascination with the story and the woman behind it shows no signs of dwindling. I’d say Mary Shelley succeeded in the task she set out to accomplish:
“I busied myself to think of a story – a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror – one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood and quicken the beatings of the heart.”
As far as cooking for Frankenstein goes, I wanted to experiment with cooking livers and kidneys, some of the organs necessary for Victor’s galvanism. I chose three different recipes: a straightforward preparation of sautéed veal liver and onions, Mario Batali’s Veal Kidneys alla Diavolo, and a duck liver pate adapted from this recipe. Don’t let the title to this post fool you, I am all about nose-to-tail eating, and I truly enjoy eating “weird things.” Unfortunately (and probably due to my inexperience cooking organ meats) I only achieved tasty results with the pate. But you know… it’s not every day that you get to hold a veal kidney. And if I have learned anything from this experience, it would be to soak your veal livers. In milk. Overnight. Unless you just happen to really like the taste of iron.
“I collected bones from charnelhouses and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame… The dissecting room and the slaughterhouse furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation.”
“Darkness had no effect upon my fancy, and a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become food for the worm.”
“My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment.”
“I found with pleasure that the fire gave light as well as heat and that the discovery of this element was useful to me in my food, for I found some of the offals that the travelers left had been roasted, and tasted much more savory than the berries I gathered from the trees. I tried, therefore, to dress my food in the same manner, placing it on the live embers. I found that the berries were spoiled by this manner, and the nuts and roots much improved.”