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Frankenstein Thoughts on Frankenstein I first read Frankenstein at the best possible time: when I was too young to understand it. I had been told by someone ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Frankenstein

Thoughts on Frankenstein
  • I first read Frankenstein at the best possible
    time when I was too young to understand it. I
    had been told by someone. . .. that Dracula and
    Frankenstein were the greatest of horror stories.
  • I did not get it. I liked the monster, as all
    decent boys must. . . . The monster was a boy as
    such I wished to be, larger and stronger. . . .I
    did NOT see Mankind in the Industrial Age, or any
    of that it was years beyond me. Most certainly I
    did not see Man Learning Things Mankind Is Not
    Meant to Know, which I now think was what Mary
    Shelley had principally wanted to show me.
  • I saw that is it science that makes the
    scientist, and not the other way roundthat
    Victor was far more a creature of his monster and
    his desire to create it than the monster was ever
    a creature of Victors. And I saw that science is
    less scientific than scientists, and saner.
  • Gene Wolfe, The Shadow of the Torturer

The Legend. . .
  • In popular imagination, Frankenstein is an
    instantly recognizable myth.
  • That the myth was created by Mary Shelley in a
    novel she wrote when she was just eighteen years
    old is not so well known.
  • In the introduction to the 1831 edition of
    Frankenstein, Shelley answers the question
  • How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and
    to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?

May/June 1816
  • On a rainy night, she, Percy Shelley, and Lord
    Byron spend an evening writing ghost stories.
  • Though at first not the vision we know today,
    Shelley gave herself to perfecting the story and
    discussing her craft and taking advice from Percy
    Shelley and Lord Byron
  • See Shelleys introduction to the 1831 edition

Stimuli for the story
  • Marys own failure to birth a child that could
  • Her mothers death 10 days after Shelleys birth
  • The experiments of Dr. Darwin (Charles
  • Womans mythmaking on the subject of birth
  • Well discuss this more next week
  • Female pain death sits on the womans side of
    the bed. Lovers risk babies, and babies can

  • Daughter of Mary and William Godwin
  • Mary died 10 days after giving birth, leaving an
    incompetent William to raise their baby and her
    daughter, Fanny, from a previous relationship
  • Though both professed to not believe in marriage,
    they were wed 5 months before Marys birth. She
    was not premature.

Literary Legacy
  • William Godwin
  • Born 1756 into a intensely Calvinist family
  • Tried his hand at preaching, eventually lost the
  • He failed at teaching, turned to writing
  • Enquiry Concerning Political Justice made him
    famous (1793)
  • Laid down the systematic evils of the government,
    projected a libertarian future
  • Poor manager of money he eventually took another
    wife who had children of her own. Mary Shelley
    was not raised in a loving home, nor a terrible
    prosperous one
  • Believed people were naturally benevolent (like
    Rousseau) government is what corrupts humanity
  • Mary Wollstonecraft
  • Famous for her A Vindication of the Rights of
  • Defended the French Revolution, threatened that
    it would spread to England
  • Attacked the aristocracy that disenfranchised
    poor workers and women
  • Demanded equal political rights regardless of
    social class OR gender
  • Several affairs that ended badly, she attempted
    suicide a number of times.
  • Met Godwin in 1796, Mary Godwin (Shelley) was
    born the next August.

Personal Life and Tragedy
  • Never knew her mother
  • Raised by a stepmother who made a point of
    showing favoritism to her own children
  • Sent to Scotland at 15 years of age, ostensibly
    because she was suffering from poor health
  • Returned at 16 years of age, intellectually
    awakened, and met Percy Bysshe Shelley, a
    frequent visitor to her fathers house (and often
    lent him large sums of money)
  • Soon, she and the already married Shelley fell in
  • On July 28, 1814, they ran away together (she was

  • When they returned 6 weeks later, Mary was
  • The baby was born premature and died two weeks
  • Two months later, she was pregnant again. Her
    child, William, was born in January of 1816.
  • The couple was beset by money troubles and the
    social pressure English gentility reserved for
    sinful lovers.
  • In May of 1816, the Shelleys went to Geneva to
    be with Lord Byron and the legend was born.

Troubling Issues
  • Mary Shelly, 18 years old, filled with the
    knowledge that her own birth had killed her
  • Added to the uncertainty of her own life as an
    unmarried mother
  • She knew Percy had abandoned his own wife and two
    children. What was her hold on him? But she
    adored him.
  • Shelley was often jealous of Lord Byron who took
    her lover away for whole days at a time to go
  • Her half-sister, Fanny, who did not know to whom
    she belonged, having not mother or father, kills
    herself while Mary is writing Frankenstein
  • Several months later, Shelleys wife, Harriet,
    also takes her own life (while pregnant with
    another mans child)
  • Mary and Percy married two weeks later, though
    neither claimed to believe in marriage
  • Social pressure probably instigated the marital

April 17, 1817
  • Frankenstein was finished while Shelley was
    pregnant with her third child.
  • The baby, born in September, died just a few
    weeks later.
  • On March 11, 1818, the book was published
  • it received some good reviews, though there were
    harsh critics.
  • When it became known it was written by a woman,
    one critic exclaimed for a man it was
    excellent, but for a woman it was wonderful.
  • Not done with birth and death, her toddler son,
    William, died the following year just months
    before she gave both to a son, Percy, the only
    child who lived to become an adult

Percys death
  • Percy, an avid sailor, was lost in a storm at sea
    in 1822. His body washed ashore 10 days later. He
    had never learned to swim.
  • Little written after Frankenstein holds much
    scholarly interest.
  • Six months after Percys death, she wrote Oh,
    Shelley, dear, lamented, beloved!? Help me, raise
    me, support me let me not feel thus fallen and
    degraded! My imagination is dead, my genius lost,
    my energies asleep.
  • She continued to write, mostly editing the works
    of Shelley and her father, until her death in

The Impact
  • Frankenstein does not touch us because Victor
    Frankenstein is a scientist but because his
    creation was born ugly because Victor abandoned
    him, because the creatures life is spent in a
    long, long pilgrimage toward his father/mothers
    love. The issue is not the scientists
    laboratory rather it is the workshop of filthy
    creation in which love and birth, and their
    consequencedeathtake place. Leonard Wolf, The
    Essential Frankenstein

The Modern Prometheus
  • The story of Prometheus was particularly
    attractive to the Romantic Age ( a movement
    stirred by two major events advancing
    industrialization and the French Revolution)
  • It saw him (Prometheus) as both Christs
    compassion toward humanity and the tragic heroism
    of Satan
  • Prometheus was a Titan god who stole fire from
    heaven and gave it to humanity.
  • Zeus punished him for this act of generosity by
    fixing him to a rock to which an eagle came each
    day to devour Prometheuss liver.

  • There is a lesser known aspect to the Prometheus
    myth one in which he is seen as the creator of
  • Percy Shelley wrote, of Prometheus, that he was a
    more poetical character than Satan, and, as it
    were, the type of highest perfection of moral and
    intellectual nature.

Paradise Lost
  • Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay to mould
    me man? Did I solicit thee from darkness to
    promote me?
  • Miltons poem often serves Mary Shelley as the
    lens through which she sees her own creation. It
    is worth noting that Satan, in PL, often refers
    to God as the Victor.

  • framed storynarrative structure a story
    within in a story
  • Robert Walton is the narrator, introduced to the
    reader through letters to his sister. He comes
    across Victor Frankenstein who has been stranded.
    Victor relates the story of his life and
    experiment to Walton
  • Chapters 11-16 contain the monsters story as he
    relates it to Frankenstein.
  • Story within the monsters tale the history of
    the De Lacey family, told to the monster, who in
    turn tells Victor.
  • Epistolary novel-collection of letters