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Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN By Patsy Brandenburg
The original title was Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was a mythological god who according to one story, steals fire from Jupiter to help the mortals on earth. Another version of this myth is that Prometheus actually creates a human being by breathing life into a clay body. 1945
The author, Mary Shelley, was born Mary Wollstonecraft in London in 1797 and died in 1851 at the age of 54 from a brain tumor. Shelley was 19 years old when she wrote this Gothic novel in 1816. At the time she was married to a poet, Percy Shelley, who helped her with the editing process of this novel. 1931
Mary wrote the novel one summer while she vacationed at Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The weather was unseasonably cold. For entertainment, Mary Shelley, her husband (poet) Percy Bysshe Shelley, (poet) Lord Byron, and Jane Clairmont would sit around reading ghost stories. 1931
On June 15, 1816, a challenge was issued among the four of them to see who could write the most terrifying story. Mary Shelley’s story is based on her life experiences, her dreams, and scientific research and experiments of that time period. 1931
Mary Shelley had previously suffered with nightmares in 1815 after her daughter died two weeks after birth. Repeatedly Mary dreamt her baby was just cold, and that she herself brought her daughter back to life after messaging the infant’s lifeless body while sitting next to a warm fire. 1931
On June 15, 1816, Mary experienced a different nightmare in which she dreamt, “a pale student of ‘unhallowed arts’ creates a living being from dead parts. ” (Frankenstein p. x) [unhallowed: against what is considered holy and sacred; immoral and unethical according to society’s standards] 1931
That dream was the basis for her gothic story. Ironically, Mary Shelley was the only one out of the group to finish her tale of terror. Mary Shelley’s gothic novel was published in 1818 when she was just 21. She went on to publish other works, but none ever matched the popularity of FRANKENSTEIN. 1931
Mary Shelley’s novel wasn’t based on her dreams alone. In the early 1800’s, scientists were obsessed with finding a way to bring the dead back to life. Mary found this idea fascinating and kept current with all new science experiments taking place during her time. Luigi Galvani was one scientist that believed that “electricity” was the life force for living beings.
He would take dead animals and shock their bodies with high currents of electricity. The corpse would jolt when shocked with electrical currents. Luigi’s nephew, Giovanni Aldini, took the experiment one step further. In London, on January 17, 1803, he publicly performed this experiment on the corpse of a human being, a prisoner that had been executed by hanging.
Giovanni attached live wires to the corpse: 120 plates of zinc and 120 plates of copper. Giovanni reported, “the jaw began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and the left eye actually opened. ”(Frankenstein, p. xx)
The muscles of the corpse were shocked to such a degree that the corpse appeared “animated” to the public. With Frankenstein, the sci-fi era began. The novel contains the 3 elements essential for all science fiction work: (1)“it’s based on valid scientific research; (2)gives a persuasive prediction of what science might achieve in the future; (3) and it offers a humanistic critique of the benefits and dangers of either the achievement or scientific thought. ” (p. xx)
Mary Shelley Romantic Movement: (1770 -1870) This movement is not about “romance or love” but about disillusioned liberals who were tired of the common people being oppressed by tyrant rulers. This time period happens simultaneously with revolutions around the world: the American R. 1776, the French R. 1789, the French Reign of Terror 1793, Napoleon is crowned Emperor-1804. Nature imagery is a key element in Romantic literature because human tyranny could not control nature. For the Romantics, nature represented peace and they believed that all emotional healing came from nature. [Nature imagery is abundant in Frankenstein. ]
Gothic Literature: It’s an offshoot of Romantic literature. “Along with nature having the power of healing, Gothic writers gave nature the power of destruction. Many storms arise in the book, including storms the night the creature comes to life… The most common feature of Gothic literature is the indication of mood through the weather. When bad things are going to happen in a Gothic novel, the reader knows it because there is inevitably a storm outside. ” (Grudzina) 1997
In addition, Gothic literature is “a style of fiction, especially in the late 18 th century and early 19 th century, with historical and picturesque settings, an atmosphere of mystery, gloom and terror, supernatural or psychological plot elements, with violent, gruesome deaths. ” (Webster) The setting is usually in medieval castles built in the Gothic style (like Mc. Murry University) of architecture—with secret passageways, dungeons, and towers.
Romanticism • Places Individual at the center of life • Regards nature as a Revelation of Truth
Romantic Characteristics: • IMAGINATION • INTUITION • INDIVIDUALISM • LOVE OF NATURE • INTEREST IN THE PAST (ESP. MEDIEVAL) • POLITICAL REVOLUTION • MYSTICISM
Romanticism IN THE SETTING: • Emphasis of the grotesque and mysterious • Desolate environment • Ghostly and eerie atmosphere
Romanticism • Emphasizes powerful emotions • NOT REASON
Romanticism • Sense of remoteness (characters and setting) • Characters possess some sort of psychic communication
Individual, Intuition, Imagination • Emotion more important than reason and formal rules • Interest in the supernatural, the mystical, and the exotic • Subject matter emphasizes introspection, psychology, melancholy, and sadness
In literature, realism and naturalism are opposites of ROMANTICISM • The opposite of a Romantic person would be a realist, or an extreme, a cynic.
Interpreting the novel Frankenstein Conservative criticism on science or the unlimited progress of science?
THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION warning against the careless use of science • A period of dramatic scientific and technological advances Machines changed people’s way of lives and methods of manufacture CONSEQUENCES IN TODAY”S MODERN WORLD: • The splitting of the atom (turned into nuclear bombs) • Invention of the computer (resulted in dehumanization of society) FAME OR BENEFIT FOR THE SOCIETY?
Frankenstein’s act of creation: DEFIANCE OF GOD THE FORBIDDEN KNOWLEDGE » SIN AGAINST GOD » Adam and Eve told not to eat the fruit of the particular tree • Yield to temptation; the result is loss of innocence and expulsion from the Garden of Eden
Frankenstein’s act of creation: the feminist literary theory • A sin against nature • An act against the female principle, which includes the natural procreation • The monster is the result of male arrogance, an unnatural procreation in which woman has become unnecessary
Frankenstein: The Frame Story • Shelley’s framing device –letters written from Robert Walton to his sister, Margaret Saville ( a broader narrative) • WITHIN IT, we have a story of Victor Frankenstein whom Walton rescues in the Arctic Sea
PROMPT: Is danger for mankind rooted in science or in society itself? What are the dangers of pursuing intellectual knowledge but neglecting emotional and spiritual growth?
Works Cited • Art. com. 1995. Online October 5, 2003. http: //www. art. com • “Frankenstein. ” U. S. National Library of Medicine. 13 February 2002. Online. <http: //www. nlm. nih. gov/hmd/frankenstein/ frank_celluloid. html>5 October 2003. • Grudzina, Rebecca. Teaching Unit: Individual Learning Packet. Cheswold: Prestwick House Inc. , 2004. • Hamberg, Cynthia. “My Hideous Progeny: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Google Images. October 27, 2004. 3 October 2006 <home 1. worldonline. nl/~hamberg/home 2. html> • Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Pocket Books. 1995.