Friday 6 January 2017

Foremost Frankenstein Expert Dies

So many famous people died in 2016 - Prince, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher - but one of the deaths that impacted me the most was that of an academic.

This man was Professor Charles Robinson. He was my graduate advisor at the University of Delaware back in the 80s, and one of the foremost authorities on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

Professor Robinson died peacefully at home in November last year, but in June, he was taking my children and me on a tour of the Delaware campus where I'd spent two years as a student. As eager as always to talk up the English department there, he gave the recruitment spiel to my teenage daughter. Heck, he did such a good job, I was ready to sign up for it all over again!

He then took us up to East Main Street and bought us pizza. As we sat on the patio, practically sweltering in the summer sunshine, he started telling us all about his continued research in Mary Shelley's original manuscripts. 

The Pizza may be a legend, but so was the company!

Robinson's book called The Original Frankenstein is published by Vintage Classics, and provides actually two different versions of the novel: that with Mary's words only, and another with Percy's amendments.

"She uses a lot more simple vocabulary and is more straightforward, then Percy comes along and adds all these Latinate words. But even though he added about 4,000 words to the original story, the novel is all Mary's."

His research and scholarship has earned him the position as the go-to consultant on most documentaries on Shelley's bookname turns up on almost every documentary about Shelley as a consultant, but it's not just his excellent scholarship; it's his enthusiasm for studies.

So friendly and accessible, and a lover of great scholarship!
Here are my kids with him at the pizza place.

The man loved his Romantics - his Byron, his Shelley, his Mary Shelley. He didn't know just the texts, but their letters, their manuscripts, their scribblings - the kind of behind-the-scenes expressions that reveal more about the author than simply reading between the lines.

Perhaps in the context of 2016, his death was just a small pebble in a very large pond, but the ripples he made in terms of Frankenstein scholarship were considerable, and will be noted for many years to come.

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