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Mary Shelley. She was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Her mother, a feminist author, wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman . She met and fell in love with Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and became pregnant. They lost all of their three children.

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mary shelley
Mary Shelley
  • She was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Her mother, a feminist author, wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
  • She met and fell in love with Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and became pregnant. They lost all of their three children.
  • The two continued their affair until his estranged wife committed suicide, at which point they married.
  • At the age of 24, she was an impoverished widow, and she supported herself with her writing.
  • Frankenstein was published in 1818 when she was only twenty years old.  
the gothic novel

The Gothic Novel

Shelley addresses two opposing philosophical movements of the late 1700s:

The Enlightenment and Romanticism

Enlightenment: Romanticism:

Reason Human emotion

Inquiry Personal connection

Mary Shelley gave birth to the genre of science fiction and to a creature who is able to evoke in readers contradictory reactions of empathy and horror.

gothic view of mankind
Gothic View of Mankind
  • The Romantics were, for the most part, disheartened liberals, who sought solace in nature.
  • The idea of the disenfranchised man was also very common. Such men, who found

themselves unable to live in society, were often revered and/or sympathized with.

  • Frankenstein and his creature are both disenfranchised men—the creature because his

form keeps him from any human company, and Frankenstein because he eventually

feels that he cannot enjoy the company of his fellow men after unleashing a monster among them.

mary shelley s frankenstein or the modern prometheus
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus

What is wrong with this common depiction of the creature?

setting and mood
Setting and Mood

The most common feature of Gothic literature is the indication of mood through the weather. When bad events happen in a Gothic novel, the reader knows it because there is inevitably a storm outside. This is still true in many books and films.

nature as the sublime and the destructor
Nature as the “Sublime” and the “Destructor”
  • They sought solitude in nature, believing that the key to all emotional healing could be found in nature.
  • Along with nature having the power to heal, Gothic writers gave nature the power of destruction. Frankenstein is full of the harsh reality of nature.
romantic view of science
Romantic view of science
  • Prior to the eighteenth century, what we call “science” and what we call “philosophy” were essentially the same disciplines.
  • The study of nature and the desire to know how nature functions eventually came to be called “natural philosophy,” but the quest for such knowledge was still more what we would consider philosophical than scientific.
  • Gothic view of science leads one to the occult, and therefore to the destruction of mankind.
some famous gothic novels
Some famous Gothic novels:
  • Frankenstein (Shelley)

  • The Phantom of the Opera (Gaston Laroux)

  • Dracula (Bram Stoker)

  • Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)

  • The Castle at Otranto (Horace Walpole)
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde

literary allusion in frankenstein
Literary allusion in Frankenstein
  • The story of Adam and Eve, especially Milton’s version of Paradise Lost, is one that is very well known in Western culture.
  • Shelley wanted the idea of the proud and inquisitive creature being cast out, as well as the idea that being ostrascized was a horrible thing.
frankenstein the modern prometheus novel s actual subtitle
Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus (novel’s actual subtitle)
  • Prometheus was a Greek god who was in charge of giving out gifts to the various creatures on Earth.
  • He gave man fire (symbolic of knowledge).
  • The other gods were angered by his disobedience (partly because now man was too godlike).
  • Prometheus’s punishment was that he was chained to a rock. Every day a vulture came and devoured his liver. Every night the liver grew back to be devoured the next day.
quick write

"How dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to be greater than his nature will allow."

Based on the quote above from Mary Shelley, how can the acquirement of knowledge be dangerous?

group quick write
Group Quick-write
  • List some elements of Romanticism that Shelley conveys in the novel. Cite examples from the text to support your ideas.
  • Why is Frankenstein a solid example of the gothic novel?
think pair share
  • Friendship is a common theme throughout the novel. Walton, the creature, and Victor all express the need for a friend in their own ways. Discuss with your group some examples where these are depicted and developed by Shelley. Cite specific examples from the text to support your ideas.
think pair share1
  • Gothic literature has given way to modern horror literature and films, including several renditions of Frankenstein.
  • With a partner, describe what common Gothic conventions are still in use today. Use specific examples from modern films or books.