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Frankenstein. By Mary Shelley. Her Life. Born in 1797 to leading intellectual radicals William Godwin, a political philosopher and novelist, and Mary Wollstonecraft, a pioneer promoting women’s rights and education. Her mother died ten days after giving birth.

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By Mary Shelley

Her life
Her Life

Born in 1797 to leading intellectual radicals William Godwin, a political philosopher and novelist, and Mary Wollstonecraft, a pioneer promoting women’s rights and education. Her mother died ten days after giving birth.

Age 9 – hid under the couch to hear Coleridge recite, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. She received no formal education but her father taught her to read from his library.

Age 16 – M.S. and Percy Shelley eloped to France. They lived a privileged Bohemian lifestyle, traveling through France, Germany and Switzerland studying literature, languages, music and art. Percy died eight years later in a boating accident.

M. S. gave birth to four children in five years. Three died as infants.

The contest
The Contest

  • Summer, 1816. The Shelley’s were living near the poet Lord Byron, and during a very rainy period, the four read ghost stories to pass the time. Byron proposed that each tried to write one.

    • I busied myself to think of a story,….One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror. M.S.

  • She tried and tried but no idea arrived. Then, after several days, while listening to Byron and Shelley discuss the idea of using electricity to create life, an idea grew.

    • Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth. M.S

  • The next day, she began. A year later, she completed her novel. It was published in 1818 – she was nineteen years old.

  • M.S. did put her name on the novel initially, and many assumed Percy was the author, as he wrote the preface. Her name was attached only in 1831.

A gothic novel
A Gothic Novel

Popular between 1760-1820

Main ingredients: mystery, horror, the supernatural and romance.

In literature, “gothic” suggests brooding atmospheres, explores the unknown and inspires fear. It features wild and remote settings (haunted houses, wind-blasted moors) or medieval castles. Plots involve violent or mysterious events.

The enlightenment
The Enlightenment

  • Reason and science over the Church and its belief system

  • Early 1800s, scientists were on the verge of discovering the potential of electricity. They knew about the existence of ‘static’ electricity, as well as electricity produced by lightening. Just beginning to understand that electricity could be produced by a chemical reaction.

  • Early 1800s, some scientists trying to understand the essence of life – what kept someone/thing alive.

    • Late 1780s, Luigi Galvani showed that frog’s legs could be ‘brought back to life’ by stimulating the muscles with electrical sparks.

    • Giovanni Aldini, early 1800s, attempted to restore life to corpses with electricity.

    • M.S. published a travelogue in 1817 – she visited Castle Frankenstein on the Rhine River and heard tales that a hundred years earlier, someone in the castle had experimented with human corpses, trying to bring them back to life with alchemy. (alchemy: a field that speculated about natural processes and often involved chemical experiments. Tried to change one thing to another, ie. Base metals to gold.)

The romantic period
The Romantic Period

  • 1798-1832

  • Pulls away from the Enlightenment (reason and logic)

  • The Romantics valued the individual, subjectivity, imagination and the expression of emotions over rational thought. The typical Romantic hero is passionate, uninhibited and unconventional.

  • Other characteristics:

    • love of nature, an enthusiasm for the wild, grotesque and irregular in nature and art

    • Sympathetic interest in the past

    • Mysticism

    • Belief that the imaginative perceptions tend to speak nobler truths than facts or logic

    • Romanticism sees in nature a revelation of the Truth