Well over a hundred years before Hollywood's horror industry got its hands on the story, 19th-century readers were getting their pants scared off of them by a short little book written by an 18-year-old girl.
Yep, we're talking about Frankenstein.
This book engages with questions like...Should there be limits to scientific inquiry? What's the relationship between human rationality and human emotion? What's the role of the individual in relation to society or to the family? Are we all doomed to be destroyed by situations of our own making? (RIP Malibu Barbie, Victim of the Easy Bake Oven Fire of 2001.)
This course will throw all sorts of readings, activities, and lessons your way to help you
- understand Frankenstein's origin story. (It's aliiiiiiive!)
- identify and discuss both the form and genre of Frankenstein. Spoiler alert: it's not your regular ol' novel.
- analyze Frankenstein in relation to both Romanticism and the Enlightenment. Oh, and know what those words mean.
- remember that Frankenstein is the scientist, not the monster.
Unit 1. Frankenstein
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 3: Let's Be Reasonable
Sit tight, Shmoopers, because we have to give you a capsule lesson on two major intellectual movements, courtesy of our literature glossary:
The period known as the Enlightenment runs from somewhere around 1660, with the Restoration, or the crowning of the exiled Charles II, until the beginning of the 19th century and the reign of Victoria.
This chunk of time, which takes up some of the 17th century and all of the 18th century, is sometimes referred to as the Age of Reason because of its emphasis on a rational, secular worldview. Bringing light to the so-called dark corners of the mind, Enlightenment thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and David Hume wrote on subjects ranging from political philosophy to the nature of humankind. Many scholars argue that, given all this revolutionary thinking, the Enlightenment is the beginning of modern society.
Sound familiar? It should. All that obsession with light and reason sounds a lot like one Mr. Walton, our ship's captain. (And in a few more lessons, it's going to sound a lot like Mr. Frankenstein.)
But we already know that this is a horror story, so if you suspect that Shelley's got her concerns about the Enlightenment—well, you'd be right.
Enter Romanticism. Which you already read about in the last lesson, but we'll cover again today...since it makes us so emotional, we think the more lessons, the better.
See, Romanticism was all about unabashed emotion, and Mary Shelley was super tight with at least three of Romanticism's Big Six: William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron.
And these guys would never bottle themselves up or play their cards close to the vest. Nah, they'd rather go for a walk in the beautiful Lake District, let their imaginations run wild, and then return home to write it all down on some spare parchment.
That brings us to our next point. Not only were the Romantics all about the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," they were also all about Nature with a capital N (at least, for the most part). They believed that nature could have a powerful and beneficial effect on the artist if he (or she) went out and immersed himself in it. They didn't seek inspiration from the bustling masses in London; they sought it from solitary mountaintops.
In other words, they weren't too happy with that whole Enlightenment fiasco. They thought reason and rationality were a load of codswallop, and that imagination was the cat's meow. They believed in freedom and spontaneous creativity, not order and imitation like those snooty neoclassicists.
Frankenstein, the Modern Romantic
Great. So, in Shelley's eyes, Enlightenment = bad and Romantic = good. Right? Well, not so fast. Sure, both Victor Frankenstein and the monster are super into mountains and the outdoors, but Frankenstein is also the spitting image of one of the Romantic ideals: the solitary (male) creator who transgresses boundaries to bring revelation to the world.
Can you guess how well that's going to go for Frankenstein?
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.3a: Term Time
Before we get to reading, take some time to review our definitions of the following terms:
Some of it will be familiar from the lesson intro, but we want to make sure we drill it right there into your head.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.3b: My Monster, My Self
For this reading, you'll be trucking through Chapters 1 and 2, which introduce our main man Victor and his weird obsession with alchemy. As always, head on over to Shmoop's chapter summaries if you need a leg up.
Here's a breakdown of what you can expect:
The man the sailors have rescued from the ice is named Victor, and he's keen to tell his whole life story. He explains that he's from Geneva, Switzerland, and lived a pretty darn charming life as a kid. The most important part of his story is about his (sorta) adopted sister Elizabeth. His parents intend to set him up with her when they become adults. As kids they were close, which hints at possible romantic love in the future. In other words, the set up will not be an "arranged" marriage, but an "encouraged" one.
Victor's story continues. We get the first hints of his ambition and his dangerous belief in man's power over nature. We're also getting a foreboding sense of Victor's relationship with nature—something we'll continue to explore. Like the Romantics, Victor understands nature's power. Unlike the Romantics, Victor thinks he can make nature yield to his power. Hint: this doesn't turn out so well.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.3a: We Have a Dream
Walton has a dream. Victor has a dream.
Do you have a dream?
In this activity, you'll get the chance to play at being a Romantic poet—or at least a guy (or gal) with some really big plans.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Quiz 1.3b: Happy Childhood
- Course Length: 3 weeks
- Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12
- Course Type: Short Course
- High School
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following Common Core Standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1