Roseanne Montillo’s “The Lady and Her Monsters”

A Must Read 300For this review, I am stepping away from fiction and taking a look at Roseanne Montillo’s The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley’s Masterpiece. In this book, Montillo examines various cases of human experimentation and corpse mutilation throughout the 1800s, as well as the effect these cases had upon Mary Shelley’s work. This book isn’t particularly long (around 300 pages), but it does contain a nice ebb and flow. Montillo provides insight about Shelley’s life, mostly  detailing particular events that shaped Shelley’s notoriously gloomy personality, after which she goes on to explain the circumstances revolving around some of the grisliest, and most fascinating, experiments I have ever heard about. Whether it is the use of lightning to animate the legs of dead frogs, or it is the passing of electricity through dismembered heads in order to encourage “conversation,” this book contains some pretty disturbing stuff. I consider myself a fairly calloused person, in regards to what I have come to expect from some people, but even I was surprised by some of these experiments. The effect these very public (for the most part) experiments had on Shelly’s work is undeniable, and the effect it has had on popular culture and the fiction/science fiction genre is even more profound.

Ultimately, the sheer fascination is what makes Roseanne Montillo’s The Lady and Her Monsters so engaging. I couldn’t put it down once I started. Seeing the interweaving interests of both an exploding scientific community and a wary religious community is an opportunity that is rarely present: it takes a very particular setting (such as early 1800s Europe) to have the right catalysts and ingredients interact in such a peculiar way. Montillo has managed to bring the pure sense of excitement and discovery of the time period to her book, a feat I always look for in nonfiction works. Roseanne Montillo’s The Lady and Her Monsters is an engaging, fascinating look into one of the darkest and, quite frankly, strangest phenomena in human history. If you like Shelley’s work, enjoy learning some less-than-pretty facts about European scientific history, or you just find real “mad doctors” to be fascinating, then The Lady and Her Monsters is a book you should try soon.

Source: Jake Depew, Assistant Editor