Speeches For Doctor Frankenstein by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s poem and book, Speeches for Doctor Frankenstein is an important part of Canadian literary history. It was originally published in 1966 and it's importance actually has less to do with the poem and more to do with HOW this particular book was originally published and WHO published it.

Speeches for Doctor Frankenstein is illustrated by Margaret’s long time friend and artist Charles Pachter. The only way to get a copy of this book is to get the digital copy through House of Anansi, unless you have over $6000.00 to get one of the fifteen copies that were made. The digital copy includes embedded videos and audio that have Charles Pachter talking about his friendship with Margaret and explaining how he illustrated and published the book.

When I first read this poem, I hadn’t yet read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.. The poem made no sense to me. I then read Fankenstein in October and did a video on reading Frankenstein for the first time. After I read Frankenstein, the poem made a lot more sense.

The poem is written in ten verses. They describe how he begins his creation and in my opinion, the creation is like him in some ways. At first he is pleased by his work and then things take a turn. Frankenstein begins to realize that what he believed he made to be perfect, is not perfect at all. He is repulsed by it and becomes fearful of it. Frankenstein runs from his creation, questioning his reason and desire to make his creation in the first place. He blames the creation for taking everything from him and begins chasing after his creation. In verse nine, it is the first time Frankenstein’s creation is called a monster in the poem. It seems here that Frankenstein thinks the monster is enjoying being chased by him and that it’s all a game to him. Verse ten gives the creature a voice and the creature seems to say that the Doctor has created something greater than him, and it is now the creature that has the power.

To understand how and why this book was created, we first must look at the friendship between Margaret and Charles Pachter. Charles Pachter met Margaret Atwood at a summer camp when Margaret was about 20. Charles said Margaret was incredibly supportive of his art, incredibly generous with her time. The letters she wrote Charles are now in the UofT library. Charles' thesis was on the challenges of Illustrating Poetry. The challenge was to take the words and translate that into a powerful image. Charles says the poem Speeches For Doctor Frankenstein is a dialogue between the writer and his or her altar ego, the monster represents your own personal demons. The reader takes on the person of Frankenstein.

Obviously, this is before computers so everything had to be hand set. The process is incredible. The paper itself was handmade from linen and cotton. Some of it is Margaret Atwood’s old clothes that she sent Charles. He used different techniques for the illustrations; he used linocut, woodblock and silkscreen. The book was made from large sheets of this handmade paper that were then folded into 4 to make 4 pages. If there was a mistake on one of those sheets then all four had to be redone. It was very time consuming.

Charles and Margaret have remained friends, supporting one another in their artistry. Charles illustrated other Atwood works as well, but this collaboration before either of them were famous, is quite incredible.

Bookworm Rating: 🐛🐛🐛🐛🐛

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