In this lesson, students will learn about the life and work of Mary Shelley, one of the most influential writers of the 19th century. She is best known for her novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), which is considered one of the first science fiction novels and a masterpiece of Gothic literature. Students will explore the historical and personal context that inspired Shelley to write Frankenstein, as well as the themes and messages that the novel conveys. Students will also analyze the structure and style of the novel, and compare it to other adaptations and interpretations. Mary Shelley. Frankenstein was her first novel, and that it was written when she was just 18 years old.
To introduce students to Mary Shelley, show them this portrait of Mary Shelley from the National Portrait Gallery. Ask them to describe what they see and what they can infer about her personality, background, and interests. Then, give them some basic information about her life and career, such as:
- Mary Shelley (née Godwin; 30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was an English novelist, essayist, short story writer, and biographer.
- She was the daughter of the political philosopher William Godwin and the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft. Her mother died 11 days after her birth, and Shelley was raised by her father.
- She met the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1812 and eloped with him to France in 1814. The couple had two children together, William and Clara. Clara died of dysentery in 1818, and William died of malaria in 1819.
- In 1822, Shelley’s husband drowned in a boating accident. Shelley was devastated by his death, but she continued to write. She published several more novels, as well as a biography of her husband.
- Shelley died in London in 1851 at the age of 53. She is buried in St. Pancras Old Church.
- She was influenced by the works of her parents, as well as by the Romantic poets and philosophers of her time.
- She was a strong advocate for women’s rights and social justice.
- She was a prolific writer and produced a wide range of work, including novels, essays, short stories, and biographies.
- She is best known for her novel Frankenstein, which has been adapted into numerous films, television shows, and stage productions.
Shelley was a complex and fascinating figure who made significant contributions to literature and culture. Her work continues to be read and enjoyed by people all over the world.
Frankenstein was written during a summer vacation in Switzerland in 1816, when Shelley was 18 years old. She was staying with her husband, their friend Lord Byron, and Byron’s physician John Polidori. They decided to have a contest to see who could write the best horror story. Shelley had a nightmare about a scientist who created a living creature from dead body parts. This inspired her to write Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.
The novel tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a grotesque creature in an unorthodox experiment. The creature is rejected by his creator and society, and seeks revenge on Frankenstein and his loved ones. The novel explores themes such as the nature of life and death, the responsibility of science and technology, the dangers of ambition and obsession, the role of family and friendship, and the consequences of isolation and alienation.
The novel was published anonymously in 1818, with a preface by Percy Bysshe Shelley. It received mixed reviews from critics and readers, some praising its originality and imagination, others criticizing its moral implications and literary flaws. The novel became more popular after Shelley’s death, and influenced many other works of literature, art, film, and culture.
Here are some of the scientific and philosophical ideas that influenced Frankenstein:
- The Enlightenment: The Enlightenment was a philosophical movement that emphasized reason and science. It led to a belief in progress and the idea that humans could control their own destiny.
- Romanticism: Romanticism was a philosophical movement that emphasized emotion and imagination. It led to a belief in the power of nature and the individual.
- Alchemy: Alchemy is the study of the transmutation of matter. It was a popular belief in the Middle Ages that alchemists could create gold and other precious metals.
- Natural philosophy: Natural philosophy is the study of nature. It was the precursor to modern science.
- Theosophy: Theosophy is a belief system that emphasizes the unity of all things. It was a popular belief in the early 19th century.
These ideas all influenced Frankenstein in different ways. The Enlightenment’s emphasis on reason and science led Shelley to explore the potential dangers of scientific hubris. Romanticism’s emphasis on emotion and imagination led her to create a sympathetic portrayal of the creature. Alchemy’s belief in the transmutation of matter led her to imagine the possibility of creating life. Natural philosophy’s study of nature led her to depict the creature as a creature of nature. Theosophy’s belief in the unity of all things led her to explore the relationship between the creature and Frankenstein.
The background of Frankenstein is complex and fascinating. It is a product of its time, and it reflects the scientific and philosophical ideas of the early 19th century. These ideas all influenced Shelley in different ways, and they helped to create a novel that is still relevant today.
Read the book here. Frankenstein [full text].pdf (google.com)
- Frankenstein: Abridged Edition by Mary Shelley and G. Ching: This abridged edition of the novel removes some of the more complex plot points and language, making it easier for younger readers to understand.
- Frankenstein: A Graphic Novel by Ian Edginton and Victor Santos: This graphic novel adaptation of the novel tells the story in a more visual format, which can be easier for some readers to follow.
- Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley: This is a shorter version of the original novel that was published in 1831. It is still considered to be a classic work of literature, but it is less dense and easier to read than the original.
- Frankenstein: Junior Library Guild Edition by Mary Shelley: This edition of the novel is specifically designed for young readers. It includes simplified language and a glossary of terms.
In groups of 3, discuss til topics below:
- The dangers of scientific hubris
- The nature of good and evil
- The importance of compassion
- The conflict between nature and technology
- The meaning of life
- How does Frankenstein explore the relationship between science and ethics? What are the benefits and dangers of scientific progress and innovation?
- How does Frankenstein portray the theme of alienation and loneliness? How do the characters of Victor Frankenstein and the creature cope with their isolation from society and each other?
- How does Frankenstein reflect the Romantic movement in literature and culture? How does the novel use elements of Gothic fiction, such as horror, mystery, and the sublime?
- How does Frankenstein challenge the traditional notions of gender and family? How do the female characters, such as Elizabeth, Justine, and Safie, represent different aspects of womanhood and feminism?
- How does Frankenstein address the question of human nature and identity? What makes someone human or monstrous? How do the characters of Victor Frankenstein and the creature develop their sense of self and morality?