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Context of Frankenstein

Discusses the historical, social, personal and literary contexts surrounding the text 'Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus'
by

Bronwyn Reed

on 1 May 2014

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Transcript of Context of Frankenstein

Context surrounding
'Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus'

Personal Context
Historical/Social
Context
literary context
Romanticism
gothicism
the myth of prometheus
Literary period spanning from approx. 1785-1830
Followed the 'Enlightenment' or 'Age of Reason' period which was characterised by logic and fact
Romanticism promoted and valued free-thinking, emotion, nature and the imagination, and as such is seen as a rebellion against the ideas promoted during the 'Age of Reason'
Literary themes in the romantic period explored ideas of isolation, social disillusionment, the otherworldly, the happy wanderer, the tragedy of loss, the inexplicable and imperfect
Romanticism focused on the subject matter rather than the form and encouraged introspection, and celebrated the wild and untamed aspects of nature, the common man and the freedom of the spirit
Thomas Cole- 'The Voyage of Life (Childhood)' 1842
Caspar David Friedrich- 'Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog' 1818
William Blake- 'The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun' 1800
Frankenstein was written during a period of great change in Britain, particularly in the fields of science and technology
Advances in technology impacted on the livelihoods of the working class, which caused social unrest and often prompted violence
Many romantics saw the mass production of goods brought about by the Industrial Revolution as the reason for mounting social ills including poverty, urban overcrowding and unhealthy and dangerous working conditions.
Romantics saw the Industrial Revolution as a threat to individualistic ideals, which was at odds with the attitudes and values of those that saw the profits of the the British Industrial Revolution
Exploration into the meaning of life marked this period in time, with discoveries about the respiration of living creatures and the link between man and nature
In 1791, Luigi Galvani published a paper suggesting that animal tissue contained 'animal electricity', later known as galvanism. This suggestion led to numerous experiments on human corpses whereby electricity was passed through the tissue, giving the appearance of reanimation. Such discoveries were widely discussed. It also brought about the idea that it was man, rather than god, that held the secret to life.
Many believe that Mary Shelley's monster is a warning against excess and unchecked progress, as well as the idea that man and not god holds the key to human life
The classic gothic period is considered to be between 1765-1820
Gothic literature is typically identified through a number of traits, namely an emphasis on fear and terror, the presence of the supernatural, the placement of events in a distant time and an unfamiliar and mysterious setting, and the use of highly stereotyped characters.
Frankenstein was written in 1818 and is considered to be part of the gothic genre, despite the book lacking many of the traditional traits of gothic fiction
Modern definitions of gothic fiction are more concerned with attempting to expose the unconscious world of desires and fear that society and individuals attempt to suppress. Gothic writers are interested in the breakdown of boundaries, an exploration of what is forbidden, and of desires that should neither be spoken of nor acted upon. They are concerned with ideas of excess and trangression
Modern gothic fiction draws on the science over superstition, on what is frighteningly possible as opposed to that which is alien and absurd. They put forward the notion that the world of the novel is the world of the reader and that the horror is part of us now.
Victorian gothic novels that followed Frankenstein (1818) include Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), The Island of Dr Moreau (1896) and Dracula (1897).
Prometheus was the child of the Titan Iapetus and the Nymph Asia. He was one of four children born to the pair, his siblings being twin brother Epimetheus, Menoetius, and Atlas, all of them Titans. The name Prometheus means “foresight,” and his twin brother's name Epimetheus means “hindsight.”
When his father revolted against the gods, Prometheus and Epimetheus refused to join him. For this Zeus spared them and gave Prometheus the task of moulding mankind from clay and water. Zeus did not want man to know the ways of the gods and forbade their teaching. Prometheus refused and taught mankind how to live. Zeus refused to give mankind fire, afraid that mankind would become too wise and too powerful. As such, Prometheus stole the fire from heaven and took it to earth, hiding it in a fennel stalk before giving it to mankind. As punishment, Zeus created Pandora and her box, wishing to unleash evil onto mankind. Prometheus refused to open the box and thus thwarted Zeus's plan. Zeus had Prometheus chained to a rock where an eagle would feed at his regenerating liver all day. He was eventually freed when his mother, Asia, told Zeus of the prophecy that his children would usurp his throne.
Victor Frankenstein is seen as a modern Prometheus as he attempts to create life with electricity, just as Prometheus took the fire from the gods.
Typical gothic setting
Edgar Allen Poe
Henry Fuseli- The Nightmare (1781)
Prometheus being feasted on by the eagle
Heinrich Fueger- Prometheus brings fire to mankind (1817)
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