Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN Tosspon English 12 – Sacramento High School
The original title was Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Prometheus was a mythological god who according to one story, steals fire from Jupiter to help the mortals on earth. Anotherversionofthismyth isthatPrometheusactually createsa human being by breathing life into a clay body. 1945
The author, MaryShelley, was born Mary Wollstonecraft in London in 1797 and died in 1851 at the age of 54 from a brain tumor. Shelley was 19 yearsoldwhenshe wrote this Gothic novel in 1816. Atthetimeshewas married to a poet, Percy Shelley, who helped her with the editing processofthisnovel. 1931
Marywrotethenovelone summer while she vacationed at Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The weather was unseasonablycold. For entertainment, Mary Shelley, her husband (poet) Percy Bysshe Shelley, (poet) Lord Byron, and Jane Clairmont would sitaroundreadingghoststories. 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 daughterdiedtwoweeksafterbirth. Repeatedly Mary dreamt her baby was just cold, and that she herself broughtherdaughterbacktolife after messaging the infant’slifelessbody 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 livingbeingfromdeadparts.” (Frankenstein p.x) [unhallowed: against what is considered holy and sacred; immoral and unethical according to society’s standards] 1931
Thatdream was the basisfor her gothic story. Ironically, Mary Shelley was the onlyone 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-fierabegan. The novel contains the 3 elements essential for all sciencefiction work: (1)“it’s based on validscientificresearch; (2)gives a persuasiveprediction of what sciencemightachieve in the future; (3) and it offers a humanistic critique of the benefits and dangers of either the achievement or scientificthought.” (p. xx)
RomanticMovement: (1770-1870) This movement is not about “romance or love” but about disillusionedliberals who were tired of the common people being oppressed by tyrantrulers. This time period happens simultaneously with revolutions around the world: the American R. 1776, the FrenchR. 1789, the FrenchReignofTerror 1793, Napoleon is crowned Emperor--1804. Natureimagery is a keyelement in Romantic literature because human tyranny could notcontrolnature. For the Romantics, nature represented peace and they believed that all emotionalhealingcame from nature. [Nature imagery is abundant in Frankenstein.] Mary Shelley MaryShelley
Gothic Literature: It’s an offshoot of Romanticliterature. “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 commonfeature of Gothicliterature is the indication of moodthrough 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 18th century and early 19th century, with historical and picturesquesettings, an atmosphere of mystery, gloom and terror, supernatural or psychologicalplotelements, with violent, gruesomedeaths.” (Webster) The setting is usually in medievalcastles built in the Gothicstyle (like McMurry University) of architecture—with secretpassageways, dungeons, and towers.
Works Cited • Art.com. 1995. Online October 5, 2003. http://www.art.com • “Frankenstein.” U.S. National Library ofMedicine. 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/home2.html> • Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Pocket Books. 1995.