Week #1: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the Poets of the Romantic Period

Welcome Back!

Our first live class got off to a great start! It’s always fun to “see” everyone again after the summer break.

Please remember to have a headset for next week so we can turn on the audio for about 10 minutes to discuss our novel. Also, BEFORE CLASS (not during), please test your device in the WizIQ environment to make sure the headset is working properly. You can do that here:

Click JOIN and then “Check Device Settings.” This page is also where you can review recordings for missed sessions:

Meet the Author! & Introducing the Novel

After a quick discussion of the John Green Crash Course video on Frankenstein, we spent the first half of our class learning about our author, Mary Shelley, and her rather interesting partner, Percy. When Frankenstein was first published anonymously in 1818, everyone assumed Percy was the author since he penned the introduction. Mary was only 18 when she wrote her famous gothic tale and 32 when she revised the novel in 1831. In the 1831 edition, Mary explains how she came to write such an unusual piece of fiction. In the summer of 1816, she and Percy Shelley were living near the poet Lord Byron on Lake Geneva in the Swiss Alps. During a period of incessant rain, they were reading ghost stories to each other when Byron proposed that they each try to write one. For days Shelley could not think of an idea. Then, while she was listening to Lord Byron and Percy discussing the probability of using electricity to create life artificially, an idea began to grow in her mind: ​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. ​– Mary Shelley We talked about galvanism, a theory of “animal electricity” that was pioneered by Luigi Galvani in the 1780’s. The Italian professor conducted experiments on animal tissue using a machine that could produce electrical sparks. He concluded that animal tissue contained electricity in the form of a fluid. Galvani’s theory was shown to be incorrect, however, he had proven that muscles contracted in response to an electrical stimulus.

“That’s so…Goth” & “Isn’t that Romantic?”

We then discussed the necessary ingredients for a good Goth Nov (MYSTERY! HORROR! THE SUPERNATURAL!), various meanings of the word “gothic,” the typical atmosphere, setting, and plot of a gothic novel, and the fact that characters in these stories are often morally complex. We also talked about the setting of the novel and its connection to Dante’s hell as well as the famous poem from Lyrical Ballads: “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 

Understanding British Romanticism:

  • Frankenstein was published at the height of the Romantic movement. This movement in art and literature was based in part on the feeling of optimism about human possibilities that pervaded Western culture after the American and French revolutions. The Romantic movement had nothing to do with romance. It was Romance with a capital “R” and lasted from about 1798 – 1832. It was a pulling away from reason and logic (the Enlightenment period), and the individual was #1, as was subjectivity, imagination, and emotions (no rational thought allowed!).
  • We then looked at a timeline of the Romantic movement. I encouraged students to create their own timeline based on the one we viewed in class, or to take a screenshot for future reference.

Next week we’ll meet the poets of the Romantic movement, analyze “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” introduce the plot, symbols, and themes in Frankenstein, discuss Letters 1-4 (the Frame), translate some of the trickier language, and go over our first writing assignment.

Whew! At least I hope. 🙂

It’s great to be back with you all. Until next week! Homework is in the Course Schedule and also the PDF syllabus.