Mary Shelley’s Frontispiece and The Frankenstein Monster’s Penis

From the bawdy humour of Mel Brook’s film Young Frankenstein (1975) to Alice Cooper’s suggestive lyrics in “Feed my Frankenstein” (1992), there has been perennial curiosity over the genitalia of Mary Shelley’s monster. This talk will uncover a hidden sexual level of meaning in the world’s most famous frontispiece, which appears in the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, depicting the moment of creation. The artist is Theodor von Holst, whose reputation was sullied when it was revealed that he had produced erotic drawings for the Prince Regent. What art historian Max Browne has described as Holst’s “bizarre and eccentric sense of humour” will become apparent in the frontispiece once the obscene iconography hidden within it has been decoded. This image has been reproduced in thousands of copies of Frankenstein around the world and yet its lewd joke has passed by under the noses of its readers unnoticed for around two centuries.


Professor Marie Mulvey-Roberts is the author of Dangerous Bodies (Manchester University Press, 2016), winner of the Alan Lloyd Smith Memorial Prize, and has authored and edited over thirty books including Global Frankenstein (2018). She is Editor-in-Chief of the journal, Women’s Writing on historical women writers before the twentieth century and is a Series Editor for Bloomsbury Studies in Global Women’s Writing. Her most recent book is a scholarly edition of Caroline Norton’s “Love ‘in the World” (Routledge, 2023). She has published widely on Mary Shelley and also the author Angela Carter, the subject of three books, the latest being Angela Carter’s Pyrotechnics (Bloomsbury, 2022). She is interested in the history of art and co-curated the exhibition, Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter at the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol. Currently she is writing about the late artist Paula Rego.

Curated & Hosted by

Marguerite Johnson is a cultural historian of the ancient Mediterranean, specialising in sexuality and gender, particularly in the poetry of Sappho, Catullus, and Ovid, as well as magical traditions in Greece, Rome, and the Near East. She also researches Classical Reception Studies, with a regular focus on Australia. In addition to ancient world studies, Marguerite is interested in sexual histories in modernity as well as magic in the west more broadly, especially the practices and art of Australian witch, Rosaleen Norton. She is Honorary Professor of Classics and Ancient History at The University of Queensland, and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

don’t worry if you miss it – we will send you a recording valid for two weeks the next day

5th Sept 2024 8:00 pm - 09:30 pm

£6 - £10 & By Donation

Thank you for your support