(Monday, 8th – Sunday, 14th)
Well, what did you think about the first few sections of Frankenstein? I found it vary interesting to get to know a bit about the characters and background…but I must admit… I am ready to meet the Monster and learn his story!
Frankenstein opens with a preface, signed by Mary Shelley but commonly supposed to have been written by her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. It states that the novel was begun during a summer vacation in the Swiss Alps, when unseasonably rainy weather and nights spent reading German ghost stories inspired the author and her literary companions to engage in a ghost story writing contest, of which this work is the only completed product.
The novel itself begins with a series of letters from the explorer Robert Walton to his sister, Margaret Saville. Walton, a well-to-do Englishman with a passion for seafaring, is the captain of a ship headed on a dangerous voyage to the North Pole. In the first letter, he tells his sister of the preparations leading up to his departure and of the desire burning in him to accomplish “some great purpose”—discovering a northern passage to the Pacific, revealing the source of the Earth’s magnetism, or simply setting foot on undiscovered territory.
In the second letter, Walton bemoans his lack of friends. He feels lonely and isolated, too sophisticated to find comfort in his shipmates and too uneducated to find a sensitive soul with whom to share his dreams. He shows himself a Romantic, with his “love for the marvellous, a belief in the marvellous,” which pushes him along the perilous, lonely pathway he has chosen.
In the brief third letter, Walton tells his sister that his ship has set sail and that he has full confidence that he will achieve his aim.
In the fourth letter, the ship stalls between huge sheets of ice, and Walton and his men spot a sledge guided by a gigantic creature about half a mile away. The next morning, they encounter another sledge stranded on an ice floe. All but one of the dogs drawing the sledge is dead, and the man on the sledge—not the man seen the night before—is emaciated, weak, and starving. Despite his condition, the man refuses to board the ship until Walton tells him that it is heading north. The stranger spends two days recovering, nursed by the crew, before he can speak. The crew is burning with curiosity, but Walton, aware of the man’s still-fragile state, prevents his men from burdening the stranger with questions. As time passes, Walton and the stranger become friends, and the stranger eventually consents to tell Walton his story. At the end of the fourth letter, Walton states that the visitor will commence his narrative the next day; Walton’s framing narrative ends and the stranger’s begins the story.
The preface to Frankenstein sets up the novel as entertainment, but with a serious twist—a science fiction that nonetheless captures “the truth of the elementary principles of human nature.” The works of Homer, Shakespeare, and Milton are held up as shining examples of the kind of work Frankenstein aspires to be. Incidentally, the reference to “Dr. Darwin” in the first sentence is not to the famous evolutionist Charles Darwin, who was seven years old at the time the novel was written, but to his grandfather, the biologist Erasmus Darwin.
In addition to setting the scene for the telling of the stranger’s narrative, Walton’s letters introduce an important character—Walton himself—whose story parallels Frankenstein’s. The second letter introduces the idea of loss and loneliness, as Walton complains that he has no friends with whom to share his triumphs and failures, no sensitive ear to listen to his dreams and ambitions. Walton turns to the stranger as the friend he has always wanted; his search for companionship, and his attempt to find it in the stranger, parallels the monster’s desire for a friend and mate later in the novel. This parallel between man and monster, still hidden in these early letters but increasingly clear as the novel progresses, suggests that the two may not be as different as they seem.
This week we will start will the actual story. What part are you all most excited to get to? Do you know the story? We’ll have discussion questions at the end of the month.
–Download The Book–
Loyal Books – download the audiobook or ebook.
The eighteenth century was the Age of Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, in Europe and America. Advances in science in the 1600s gave rise to the belief in natural law and confidence in human reason, which led thinkers of the 1700s to apply a scientific approach to matters of human importance including religion, society, politics, and economics. The movement was centered in the salons of Paris, coffeehouses of England, and universities of Germany.
Human rationality was seen to be in harmony with the universe, and belief in the importance of the individual was popular. Philosophers looked for universal truths to govern humanity and nature, and the sense of progress and perfectibility through rationality abounded. Human reason was considered the path to understanding the universe and improving the human condition, the result of which would be knowledge, freedom, and happiness.
The scientific approach to discovery was very successful in the fields of science and mathematics and spurred the search for rules that could define all areas of human experience. Rather than trusting innate goodness or blaming original sin for people’s behavior, Enlightenment thinkers crafted new theories about heredity and psychology. Whereas once the political state was viewed as a representation of divine order, new political thinkers began touting the rights of individuals and arguing for establishment of democracies.
–American, French, and Industrial Revolutions–
The revolutionary political theories born in Europe had a revolutionary impact in the New World. By the mid-1700s, after more than a century of imperialist rule, American colonists had developed customs and values that differed from English ways. Rather than relaxing its influence and accommodating those differences, the English tightened control by passing laws demanding tax revenue in the colonies without offering the colonials a voice in Parliament to represent their interests. To the colonial political leaders, this taxation without representation amounted to tyranny. The war for American independence broke out in 1775 and had almost reached a stalemate when assistance from France arrived in 1777. The fighting lasted four more years before, with the help of the French navy, the war ended with the British surrender at Yorktown. The Treaty of Paris recognized the United States of America in 1783, a country founded on the principles of liberty and democracy.
The success of the young democracy in America fired the imaginations of progressives in France who were eager to establish a representative government at home. France’s privileged classes—the clergy and the nobility—governed the country, while the productive class—the third estate—was heavily taxed to foot the bill. Outdated farming methods created food shortages, while extravagances in the court of King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, sparked outrage. The king was forced to order a general election of popular representatives who met in 1789 to present him with their complaints; instead, they declared themselves to be the National Assembly and vowed not to adjourn until a constitution had been written. Violence erupted as frustrated peasants lashed out at the ruling classes, forcing the nobility to abolish the feudal system and accept the Declaration of the Rights of Man. By 1791 a limited constitutional monarchy was created, but the Revolution was far from over. “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” was the rallying cry as the National Assembly suspended the monarchy and called for new elections to create a convention to draw up a new constitution. In 1792 the new Legislative Assembly abolished the monarchy and arrested, convicted, and executed the king for treason. Internal power struggles led to the creation not of a democracy but of a military dictatorship that tried to maintain order by executing everyone it considered a threat. In the span of about a year, from 1793 to 1794, thousands, including the queen, lost their heads to the guillotine in a period known as the Reign of Terror.
Turmoil was not contained within the country’s borders, however. France had declared war on Austria in 1792 and was busy in Europe fighting governments sympathetic to the deposed monarchy. The year 1795 saw another new constitution in France, followed in 1797 by another coup. In 1799, General Napoleon Bonaparte returned home from a military campaign in Egypt, seized control of France, and established the Consulate. Within a decade he had conquered Europe from Spain to the border of Russia for France, but the empire was short-lived. He went into exile in 1814 after losses at the hands of Britain, Prussia, and Spain, and returned only to be definitively defeated at Waterloo in 1815.
Another revolution, social and technological rather than political, was also under way at the turn of the nineteenth century. Mechanical innovations shifted the basis of England’s economy from agriculture to industry between 1750 and 1850. The development of steam power and a boom in the cotton textiles industry caused a population shift from rural to urban areas. New steam-powered railroads and ships broadened the market for England’s output. France’s Industrial Revolution took off in the 1830s, followed by Germany’s in the 1850s and the United States’ after the Civil War.
Laborers were more at the mercy of their employers than ever before, and working conditions in factories and mills were often brutal. Children and parents alike worked long hours six days a week in dangerous conditions for very low wages. It was clear that the economic philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism—the belief that market pressures alone would resolve production issues in capitalist economies—would not protect workers. Karl Marx and Frederich Engels published their Communist Manifesto as a solution to the tense relationship between labor and capital. They called for the more equitable distribution of the vast wealth being generated in the newly industrialized world. Their ideas, however, did not produce much political change until the early twentieth century. Throughout the nineteenth century, most of the Western world struggled to adjust to the impact of industrialization.
–The Romantic Movement–
Imbued with revolutionary spirit, the Romantic movement lasted from the late eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century. It was a rejection of the order, calm, and rationalism of the Enlightenment in favor of innovation and emotional expression. Although disappointed that the French Revolution was overshadowed by the horrors of the Reign of Terror and the egomania of Emperor Bonaparte, intellectuals of the day lauded the ideals of the Revolution and were fascinated by the possibility of radical social reformation. They were optimistic that humankind could create its own utopia, but the reality of events around them made them pessimistic about the darker side of human nature.
Romantic art is marked by an appreciation of the beauty of nature, the importance of self-examination, and the value of the creative spirit. Nationalism, folk culture, the exotic, and the supernatural were also topics of interest. To the Romantic artist, inspiration, intuition, and imagination were seen as divine sparks that pointed to Truth. The subjects of the literature of the Romantic movement focused on the quest for beauty; the faraway, the long-ago, and the lurid; escapism from contemporary problems; and nature as a source of knowledge, refuge, and divinity. To explore these subjects, Romantic writers stressed emotion and subjectivity, and often asked their readers to suspend their disbelief.
Romanticism valued individual voices, including those of women and “common people.” They tended to idealize the pastoral lives of farmers, shepherds, milkmaids, and other rustic people, figures who seemed to them to belong to a simpler, more wholesome, less cynical time when humankind lived in harmony with nature. The works of poet William Wordsworth—especially his Lyrical Ballads (1798)—provide good examples of this idealization. The Romantic sensibility also allowed women authors such as Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and the Brontë sisters to flourish.
The Romantic literature preoccupied with mystery, horror, and the supernatural is known as Gothic. The name is a reference to the barbaric Gothic tribes of the Middle Ages, or to medieval times in general with its castles, knights, and adventure. Gothic novels tended to feature brooding tones, remote settings, and mysterious events. The characters’ inner emotional lives receive a lot of attention, as does the struggle between good and evil. The style took its name from Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story, the first book identified as belonging to the genre. Published in 1764, it is set in a medieval society and features plenty of supernatural happenings. English writers Ann Radcliffe and Mary Shelley, and Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe in the United States, are regarded as masters of the form. Among them, Shelley is known for using a contemporary setting and modern issues to illustrate the weird and terrible to evoke the reader’s fear of the darkness in human nature.
–Important Dates Relating to the Development of Frankenstein–
1750s: Benjamin Franklin establishes the electrical nature of lightning through experiments using kites.
1764: James Hargreaves invents the spinning jenny for textile manufacture. Horace Walpole publishes The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story.
1769: James Watt patents his steam engine.
1771: Richard Arkwright produces the first spinning mill for cotton thread.
1774: Joseph Priestley discovers oxygen. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe publishes The Sorrows of Young Werther.
1776: The American Declaration of Independence is signed in July. Adam Smith publishes An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.
1777: Antoine Laurent Lavoisier establishes the oxygen and nitrogen basis of air.
1781: Immanuel Kant publishes the Critique of Pure Reason.
1785: James Watt and Matthew Boulton install a steam engine in an English cotton factory.
1789: The storming of the Bastille begins the French Revolution.
1791: Thomas Paine publishes The Rights of Man, part I. Luigi Galvani publishes his paper on his theory of animal electricity.
1792: Mary Wollstonecraft publishes A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
1793: Reign of Terror begins in Paris.
1794: Robespierre is executed, ending the Reign of Terror.
1797: Samuel Taylor Coleridge writes “Kubla Khan” and the first version of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
1800: Alessandro Volta develops the electric battery.
1806: The first steam-driven textile mill opens in Manchester, England.
1813: Jane Austen publishes Pride and Prejudice. Percy Bysshe Shelley publishes Queen Mab.
1814: The British navy develops the first steam-driven warship. George Stephenson invents the steam locomotive.
1818: James Blundell, a London surgeon, performs the first successful transfusion of human blood.
1825: The first railroad starts operation in England.
1832: England’s Parliament outlaws body-snatching for medical research.
1837: Samuel F. B. Morse makes a public demonstration of the electric telegraph in New York.
1840: Charles Darwin publishes Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle.
1847: Charlotte Brontë publishes Jane Eyre. Emily Brontë publishes Wuthering Heights. William Makepeace Thackeray publishes Vanity Fair.
1848: The first Women’s Rights Convention is held in Seneca Falls, New York. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels publish The Communist Manifesto.