Frankenstein IntroductionBritish Novel to FilmFu Jen English Dept Dr. M. Connor
IntroductionMary Shelleys 1818 novel Frankenstein is a complex blending of many different themes. Most people are familiar with the story, at least the version that has been passed down to us through the cinema versions, but many people are unaware of just how very complex it is.
This weeks materialSince I am assuming you are in the process of reading, I wont be discussing plot or character much this week.This weeks materials will be devoted more to background and introduction.
Intellectual stimulationAt the time she was writing it, Shelley was intellectually stimulated--reading Romantic poetry with her brilliant husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and his friends and working through John Miltons Paradise Lost among other great works. She was 18 years old.
The ShelleysSource: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/frankenstein/IIA2.jpgSource: www.2idiotsinaboat.com/pilgrim/media/0830.jpg
Year of tragedyBut she was also grieving the loss of her first child, a terrible tragedy for any one. But there was more to come. Her half-sister Fanny Imlay committed suicide in the following fall, when she was still writing the novel, as would Percys deserted and unhappy wife, Harriet.
Lake GenevaMary Shelley was only 18, far from home, on the banks of Lake Geneva, Switzerland, during one of the worst summers on record.It was cold and rainy that summer, and Geneva is no place to be under those conditions!
Life in GenevaIve had the great good luck to live in Geneva while teaching this novel, partially set in that city. One summer course I spent doing this book and the film versions of it was another horrible summer--wet, cold and full of thunderstorms bouncing off the mountains that encircle Lake Geneva--the Alps and the French Juras.
Oppressive atmosphereAfter reading the book together and watching the films, my class and I felt we had some additional insights into what went into the book. While one of the prettiest places on Earth, Geneva in the cold and rain can be quite spiritually oppressive.
Even with electric lights, a Genevan sunset is lovely. The Juras are in the background.
The Italian Alps outside of Geneva. These are the mountains Shelley was thinking of when she was writing her novel.
June 16thAs all the introductions to the novel tell you, its inception came on a very special night. Thanks to the torrential rains, the Shelleys could not return to their own villa, so they had to spend the night at their friend Lord Byrons villa, Villa Diodoti.The house party included Marys stepsister, Claire Clairmont, Lord Byron, and John Polidori, Byron's physician.
The night on filmThis house party is immortalized in Ken Russells strangely compelling Gothic (1986), which gives a fictionalized account of the evening, with Natasha Richardson as Mary Shelley, Julian Sands as Percy Shelley and Gabriel Byrne as Byron.
A poster for the film Gothic. Its a strange film, but I recommend it. A little violent, though. The head on the bottom left of the poster is Dr. Polidori. To the left are the Shelleys, and the final picture on the bottom is Lord Byron. Photo source: http://www5.airnet.ne.jp/ashiato/POLITICS%20of%20AUTHOR/KEN%20RUSSELL/GOTHIC/GOTHIC.JPEG
The Evenings ChallengeAfter giving themselves a good scare reading a collection of German ghost stories, The Fantasmagoriana, aloud, they set each other a task. Each would write a horror story for the entertainment of the rest.Shelley wrote a now-forgotten story, Byron wrote a story fragment, and Polidori began the "The Vampyre", the first modern vampire tale, which he later finished and published in 1819.
What of Mary?And poor Mary had a terrible time. She couldnt get started. But a few days later, she had what she called a waking dream:
I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life...His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away...hope that...this thing...would subside into dead matter...he opens his eyes; behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains... (http://www.kimwoodbridge.com/maryshel/summer.shtml)
She had the beginningThe next morning Mary realized she had found her story and began writing the famous lines that open Chapter Four of Frankenstein - "It was on a dreary night in November.
Intense Reading Program
Shelley was doing some heady reading that summer. In the days before the creation of her story she and Percy had been reading and discussing Samuel Taylor Coleridges Christabel, Germaine Necker, Madame de Stael's De l'Allemagne as well as Miltons Paradise Lost.All of these influences can be found in the novel, but very few people who hear the name Frankenstein think of an intellectual novel.
Separate PPTPlease see the accompanying power point presentation on Miltons Paradise Lost, as I think you probably need some background on the work.
Quickly brought to StageThe first dramatization of Shelleys novel came during her own lifetime. It was a three-act opera by R. B. Peake titled Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein (1823). When Mary Shelley attended a performance of the play, she commented that she was much amused and it appeared to excite a breathless eagerness in the audience (quoted in Donald A. Glut, The Frankenstein Legend, Scarecrow Press, 1973, p 32). A second adaptation opened the same year, as did a trio of comedic versions. In 1826, new versions were staged in London and Paris.
Film versionsA quick search for Frankenstein on imdb.com brings up 102 hits, not including name matches! And that doesnt include films like the recent Van Helsing in which Frankensteins monster plays a key role in the story.
The Swiss AlpsOn the next slide is a map taken from my familys personal homepages. It shows a trip we took when we lived there, but on the left side, you can see the Sea of Ice where the Creature and Frankenstein meet in book two. Its written in German as Eisinmeer.
Romantic novelOf course, the novel is the most widely read Romantic novel, so quickly some background on the Romantics just in case.
Romantic periodUsually designated as 1798-1832 In 1832 The Reform Bill carried in Parliament which changed many aspects of Victorian law and society as well as the death of Sir Walter Scott.Most of the major romantics had died or stopped creating by this date.
Romanticism:A movement in literature, art, music and philosophy. Chiefly a reaction against the Age of Enlightenment and the Neoclassical movement and their rules about Reason, order, balance, rationality and intellect. In the pre-romantic period there was an upsurge in interest in medieval romances (the term romantic in either case has nothing to do with love). In medieval romances (ie: Tristan and Isolde and the Arthur tales), emphasized individual heroism and mysterious happenings. Think of the search for the Holy Grail or the story of the Fisher King From Bloomsburys Guide to English Literature.
Romantics emphasizedThe individualThe subjectiveThe irrationalThe imaginativeThe personalThe spontaneousThe emotionalThe visionaryThe transcendental
Characteristics of Romanticism are:Deepened appreciation of the beauties of NatureA general exaltation of emotion over reasonAn exaltation of the senses over the intellectA turning in upon the self and a heightened examination of human personalityA preoccupation with the genius, the hero, and the exceptional figureA new view of the artist as a supremely individual creator, whose creative spirit is more important than strict adherence to formal rules and traditional proceduresAn emphasis upon imagination as a gateway to transcendent experience and spiritual truthA consuming interest in folk culture, national and ethnic cultural origins and the medieval eraA predilection for the exotic, the remote, the mysterious, the weird, the occult, the monstrous, the diseased and even the satanic
FrankensteinMost of these characteristics are central to the novel.But it transcends Romanticism in some ways. Its also considered the first science fiction novel.
PhotosGeneva is unbelievably beautiful, so Im going to add some photos. You can see why it drew so many Romantic writers.
http://www.geneve-tourisme.ch/?rubrique=0000000166The fountain in the lake wasnt there in Shelleys time. Its late 19th century. View from the Old Town.
http://www.geneve-tourisme.ch/?rubrique=0000000166A view over the Old Town with St. Pierres Cathedral, which was there in Shelleys day. See the beautiful mountains in the background.
Source: http://www.geneve-tourisme.ch/?rubrique=0000000166A street in the Old Town showing the Swiss flag, the white cross, and the flag of Geneva, which is just as important to the Genevois. It shows the Eagle of liberty and the keys to the cathedral. Some wags say its half a chicken and the keys to the wine cellar! Genevois enjoy a French love of food! It may be in Switzerland, but its a French culture.
La Salve, a mountain outside of Geneva, actually right over the French border. Frankenstein sees the Creature climbing up the mountain side. Its about 680m high. Source