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Mary Shelley


... where they and Byron's other guests sometimes read from a volume of ghost stories. One evening, Byron challenged his guests to each write one themselves. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Mary Shelley

Mary Shelleys Frankenstein
  • Penetrating the Secrets of Nature

Mary Shelley
  • In 1818, Shelley's story was published
    as Frankenstein or, The Modern Prometheus. This
    story both in the original novel and shaped
    into new forms, such as plays, films, and comics
    has captivated people ever since, exposing
    hidden, sometimes barely conscious fears of
    science and technology. As scientists have gained
    new powers, the Frankenstein story remains, like
    a warning beacon, throwing its harsh, unsettling
    beam upon human efforts to penetrate the secrets
    of nature.

Mary Shelly (1797-1851)Frankenstein or The
Modern Prometheus London, 1831. Courtesy
Singer-Mendenhall Collection, Annenberg Rare Book
and Manuscript Library, University of
  • Hollywood did not give birth to Frankenstein
    Mary Shelley did. More than a century before
    actor Boris Karloff, helped by make-up artists,
    made the monster in his image, came Shelley and
    her creation.
  • The mother of Frankenstein came from the rarefied
    reaches of the British artistic and intellectual
    elite. While Mary Shelley drew her inspiration
    from a dream, she drew her story's premises about
    the nature of life from the work of some of
    Europe's premier scientists and thinkers. The
    sophisticated creature that billowed up from her
    imagination read Plutarch and Goethe, spoke
    eloquently, and suffered much.

A Dark and Stormy Night
  • In the summer of 1816, nineteen-year-old Mary
    Wollstonecraft Godwin and her lover, the poet
    Percy Shelley (whom she married later that year),
    visited the poet Lord Byron at his villa beside
    Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Stormy weather
    frequently forced them indoors, where they and
    Byron's other guests sometimes read from a volume
    of ghost stories. One evening, Byron challenged
    his guests to each write one themselves. Mary's
    story, inspired by a dream, became Frankenstein.

The Villa Diodati. Courtesy of The Granger
Collection, New York.
A Writers Life
  • Mary Shelley came from a rich literary heritage.
    She was the daughter of William Godwin, a
    political theorist, novelist, and publisher who
    introduced her to eminent intellectuals and
    encouraged her youthful efforts as a writer and
    of Mary Wollstonecraft, a writer and early
    feminist thinker, who died shortly after her
    daughter's birth.
  • At fifteen, Mary met the poet Percy Shelley, who
    was married at the time. Two years later, she ran
    off with him to France. They were married in
    December 1816, two weeks after Percy Shelley's
    first wife drowned. By then Mary had already
    borne him two children.

Percy Shelley. Courtesy of The Granger
Collection, New York
Mary Wollstonecraft.
Boundry Crossings 1818
  • In her novel, Mary Shelley is silent on just how
  • Victor Frankenstein breathes life into his
  • saying only that success crowned "days and
  • nights of incredible labor and
  • fatigue" Frankenstein offers no monster-making
  • recipes.
  • But Shelley's story did not arise from the void.
  • Scientists and physicians of her time, tantalized
  • the elusive boundary between life and death,
  • probed it through experiments with lower
  • organisms, human anatomical studies, attempts to
  • resuscitate drowning victims, and experiments
  • using electricity to restore life to the recently
  • When Percy Shelley's first wife, Harriet, drowned
  • in London in 1816, rescuers took her lifeless
  • to a receiving station of the London Society.
  • smelling salts, vigorous shaking, electricity,

A Physical Dissertation on Drowning Rowland
Jackson, London, 1747. Courtesy of the National
Library of Medicine Collection
Restored to Life?
  • In March 1815, Mary Shelley dreamed of her dead
    infant daughter held before a fire, rubbed
    vigorously, and restored to life. At the time,
    scientists would not have wholly dismissed such a
    possibility. Could the dead be brought back to
    life? Could life arise spontaneously from
    inorganic matter? Physicians of the day treated
    such questions seriously as the treatises they
    wrote, the methods they employed, and the
    contrivances they built all testify.
  • James Blundell, a London physician troubled by
    the many women who died after childbirth from
    massive bleeding, introduced blood transfusion
    between humans, using the simple apparatus shown
    here. Reproduction of an illustration from The
    Lancet, 1828-1829.

Blundell's Gravitator. Reproduction of an
illustration from The Lancet, II (June 13, 1828)
321. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine
Illustration of Italian physician Luigi Galvani's
experiments, in which he applied electricity to
frogs legs from his book De Viribus
Electricitatis in Motu Musculari (1792).
  • During the 1790s, Italian physician Luigi Galvani
    demonstrated what we now understand to be the
    electrical basis of nerve impulses when he made
    frog muscles twitch by jolting them with a spark
    from an electrostatic machine. When Frankensteinwa
    s published, however, the word galvanism implied
    the release, through electricity, of mysterious
    life forces. "Perhaps," Mary Shelley recalled of
    her talks with Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, "a
    corpse would be reanimated galvanism had given
    token of such things."

Electricity's seeming ability to stir the dead to
life gave the word galvanize its own special
flavoring, as this 1836 political cartoon of a
"galvanized" corpse suggests.
Body Parts
  • To make his creature, Victor Frankenstein
    "dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave"
    and frequented dissecting rooms and
    slaughterhouses. In Mary Shelley's day, as in our
    own, the healthy human form delighted and
    intrigued artists, physicians, and anatomists.
    But corpses, decaying tissue, and body parts
    stirred almost universal disgust. Alive or dead,
    whole or in pieces, human bodies arouse strong
    emotion and account for part ofFrankenstein's en
    during hold on us.
  • As this early book illustration suggests,
    nature's own "monsters" sharp deviations from
    normal human development fascinated anatomists
    of Mary Shelley's day and before.

De Monstro Nato Lutetiae Anno Domini Jean Riolan,
Paris, 1605. Courtesy of the National Library of
Medicine Collection
  • Mary Shelley subtitled her novel "The Modern
    Prometheus." According to the Greeks, Prometheus
    stole fire from the gods. As punishment, he was
    chained to a rock, where an eagle each day
    plucked at his liver. Haughty Prometheus sought
    fire for human betterment to make tools and
    warm hearts. Similarly, Mary Shelley's arrogant
    scientist, Victor Frankenstein, claimed
    "benevolent intentions, and thirsted for the
    moment when I should put them in
    practice." Frankenstein endures not only because
    of its infamous horrors but for the richness of
    the ideas it asks us to confront human
    accountability, social alienation, and the nature
    of life itself. These passages illuminate some of

Prometheus Bound, 1611-1612. Peter Paul Rubens
(1577-1640). Photographic reproduction of an oil
painting. Courtesy of The Granger Collection, New
Paradise Lost
  • Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay To mould
    me man? Did I solicit thee From darkness to
    promote me?
  • Lines from John Milton's Paradise Lost From the
    title page of Frankenstein or, The Modern
    Prometheuse, 1818
  • In Frankenstein, the intelligent and sensitive
    monster created by Victor Frankenstein reads a
    copy of Milton'sParadise Lost, which profoundly
    stirs his emotions. The monster compares his
    situation to that of Adam. Unlike the first man
    who had "come forth from the hands of God a
    perfect creature," Frankenstein's creature is
    hideously formed. Abandoned by Victor
    Frankenstein, the monster finds himself
    "wretched, helpless, and alone."

The Expulsion from Eden, 17th century. Artist
unknown. Photographic reproduction of a line
engraving. Courtesy of The Granger Collection,
New York.