Tompkins County Public Library

101 E. Green St.
Ithaca, NY 14850

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Penetrating the 
Secrets of Nature
  Exhibition Outline
Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature raises a number of questions for audiences at libraries across the country to discuss.  Among them are: 
  • What is the nature of being "human"? 
  • How important are our connections to other living beings, and what are our responsibilities to them, especially those less fortunate than ourselves?
  • What is the nature of power, and 
  • What are the consequences of its misuse?
The six main sections of the exhibition focus on: 

1. Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein; its metaphorical aspects; and the literary, scientific and political environment that influenced Mary Shelley as  she created the scientist and his monster; the complexities of Shelley's monster  - his sensitivity and yearning for acceptance into the human community.

2. The focus of scientific development in the late 18th and early 19th centuries on reanimation and resuscitation of the dead; and the belief that the world's problems could be solved through science. 

3. Passages from the novel and how they illuminate the dilemmas raised by Dr. Frankenstein's ability to create life and his failure to take responsibility for what he has created. 

4. The interpretations and distortions of the Frankenstein story in the 19th and  20th centuries in various media, such as theater, political cartoons, and film;  and the uses of the Frankenstein metaphor in the political and scientific  spheres. 

5. Popular scientific developments in the 1930s when the Frankenstein films attracted a large following, including the glass heart co-developed by Charles  Lindebergh and cardiac pacemakers. 

6. Contrasts between science as conducted in Mary Shelley's novel and science as  it is pursued in the 21st century, and the ways citizens and experts negotiate  the moral and social boundaries of acceptable society, especially in controversial areas such as cloning. 


Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature was developed by the National Library of Medicine in collaboration with the American Library Association.

It has been made possible by major grants from The National Endowment for the Humanities, Washington, D.C., and the National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Md. The traveling exhibition is based upon a major exhibition produced by the National Library of Medicine in 1997-1998.

American Library Association National Endowment for the Humanities National Library of Medicine

Local program support has been generously provided by Cornell University, M&T Bank, and Borders Bookstore.

Cornell University Logo M & T Bank Logo Borders Bookstore Logo

We have also benefited from many local partnerships with community groups including the members of the Discovery Trail.

Frankenstein image from:

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Last Revised August 14, 2002