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British Romanticism: The Contexts of Frankenstein

ENGL 250.301
R 1:30-4:30

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a work of radical intertextuality, as its very title Frankenstein: or, the modern Prometheus indicates . Dedicated to her father, William Godwin, it plays continually against the themes of his fictional and philosophical writings, and it likewise, though less conspicuously, addresses principal concerns of Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. No other novel of the period is so imbued with the voices of contemporary poets: in her pages Mary Shelley quotes directly from Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Moreover, the Creature learns language and cultural forms from four major texts Plutarch’s Lives, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther, and Volney’s Ruins of Empire that, for better or worse, shape his destiny. On top of this literary referentiality, the novel invokes a series of broader disciplinary subjects of major import, principally in history, geography, and chemistry. Part of what has made the novel of such enduring cultural relevance is its capacity to point beyond itself, to absorb entire areas of human experience and concern within its narrative scope. To engage any aspect of it is to find oneself at the center of intersecting interests and contexts. Thus, it becomes an exemplary text for scholarly inquiry.

In this course we will read Frankenstein in light of this continuing intertextual dialog. As a contextual library we will use the soon-to-be-published Pennsylvania electronic edition with its large library of relevant documents and its almost 80,000 hypertext links. Members of the seminar will be encouraged to pursue subjects of research within this archive and then to go beyond its perimeters in individual projects that will be reported back to the seminar. Requirements: brief factual reports, extended research paper.

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