Two creation narratives. Two piercing analyses of power and perdition. Two accounts of the pleasures and dangers of knowledge and the wonders and horrors it can work. John Milton’s great Christian epic provides the epigraph for Mary Shelley’s “monstrous progeny,” one of the earliest works of modern science fiction: “Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay / To mould me man? Did I solicit thee / From darkness to promote me?” Frankenstein’s creature reads Paradise Lost astutely, identifying both with Adam in his relation to a creator who sets what he sees as impossible terms for his existence and with Satan in his ultimately villainous desire for power on his own terms. Shelley’s novel might be understood as an extended engagement with Milton’s poem, as one of its greatest critical and adaptive readings. This course will pursue close readings of both Frankenstein and Paradise Lost, first each on its own terms and then in relation to each other. We will explore through them questions of the ethics and politics of creation and of knowledge, of sexuality and reproduction, of the nature of evil and monstrosity, and the limits of the human.
This course will serve as an introduction to the skills of literary analysis. Assignments will include short weekly exercises and a final essay.