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Frankenstein and the Romantic Era

Why Frankenstein?

Shelly’s novel has proven itself to be a work of continuing power, examining as it does ideas of creation and authorship; hospitality toward strangers and those who appear unlike “us”; human rights in the context of exile and refugees; the ways in which science and technology can speed ahead of ethics and the human experience; ideas of what is monstrous and what is normal and the kinds of violence that can be justified on the basis of such distinctions; as well as the power of communication and sympathy to humanize individuals and mitigte against violent acts born of fear.

A novel or a film? or, Why has Frankenstein

been adapted so often?

The film Victor Frankenstein is the most recent in a long line of adaptations of Mary Shelley’s narrative of human creation, scientific experimentation, and a monster abandoned to its own loneliness. That so many adaptations of Frankenstein exist reminds us of the enduring vitality of literature that invites us to ponder how we live in the world and the implications of our actions on others. While Shelley’s brilliant and obsessively focused Victor Frankenstein and his monster have become hallmarks of our culture, what is remarkable about Shelley’s novel is that almost no one was reading it in the years after it was written. As the critic and historian of literature William St. Clair has documented in his remarkable book The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period, Shelley’s novel was out of print for most her lifetime. Fewer than 5,000 copies of the book were printed from 1818 to 1832. And only approximately 3,000 copies were printed over the next 50 years. A fascinating problem emerges from this. When Shelley’s novel went out of copyright in 1882, publishers began to produce thousands of copies, with one press making 40,000 copies before the end of the 19th century. For a book that barely anyone was reading, what explained such a pent up demand that made Shelley’s book a bestseller in 1882? The answer, St. Clair notes, is what we have always known. Readers were encountering adaptations of Frankenstein everywhere in popular culture, even if they could not get their hands on the book. Not yet the film franchise it would become over the course of the 20th century, the story of Frankenstein had become a mainstay in British theatres starting as early 1823. So the idea of adapting Shelley’s novel into a performance is nothing new, indeed the story exists first and foremost as a adaptation and part of visual culture.
Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is one of the best known stories of the Romantic era, yet readers may not know how much this novel reveals about the concerns, attitudes, culture, and practices of her time. Romanticism is the name given to Shelley’s era, a period of European culture that flourished in the wake of the French Revolution of 1789 and continued into the 1830s. It is a period of remarkable invention, social upheaval, and cultural innovation and is arguably a time that gives rise to much of contemporary culture. While it was dubbed “Romantic” because some perceived that culture turned away from its complicated everyday realities to focus instead on nostalgic representations of nature, its novels, poetry, drama, philosophy, and art actually reflect steady and thoughtful engagement with all of the ideas of the day. In the short essays below, we show how Frankenstein opens the door to understanding a great deal about Romanticism and its legacies in the present moment. If you like Frankenstein, you might also enjoy the novels, poems, plays, and other writing from the Romantic period we discuss here. More, you may be surprised to discover that Shelley’s novel comes from an era much like our own, which may help to explain its enduring fascination for us. Her novel confronts social challenges that we have not yet finished thinking about or solved.
What Mary Shelley’s novel tells us about the culture of the Romantic Age

Chapters

Explore the individuals chapters below. They each discuss parts of Frankenstein and introduce other works of Romantic culture and connect these elements to wider social and cultural concerns in the Romantic period. They each make a make a terrific introduction to Romanticism and are sure to enrich our understanding of Shelley’s most famous novel.
Frankenstein
Navigation Menu Frankenstein  and the Romantic Era

Why Frankenstein?

Shelly’s novel has proven itself to be a work of continuing power, examining as it does ideas of creation and authorship; hospitality toward strangers and those who appear unlike “us”; human rights in the context of exile and refugees; the ways in which science and technology can speed ahead of ethics and the human experience; ideas of what is monstrous and what is normal and the kinds of violence that can be justified on the basis of such distinctions; as well as the power of communication and sympathy to humanize individuals and mitigte against violent acts born of fear.

A novel or a film? or,

Why has

Frankenstein been

adapted so often?

The film Victor Frankenstein is the most recent in a long line of adaptations of Mary Shelley’s narrative of human creation, scientific experimentation, and a monster abandoned to its own loneliness. That so many adaptations of Frankenstein exist reminds us of the enduring vitality of literature that invites us to ponder how we live in the world and the implications of our actions on others. While Shelley’s brilliant and obsessively focused Victor Frankenstein and his monster have become hallmarks of our culture, what is remarkable about Shelley’s novel is that almost no one was reading it in the years after it was written. As the critic and historian of literature William St. Clair has documented in his remarkable book The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period, Shelley’s novel was out of print for most her lifetime. Fewer than 5,000 copies of the book were printed from 1818 to 1832. And only approximately 3,000 copies were printed over the next 50 years. A fascinating problem emerges from this. When Shelley’s novel went out of copyright in 1882, publishers began to produce thousands of copies, with one press making 40,000 copies before the end of the 19th century. For a book that barely anyone was reading, what explained such a pent up demand that made Shelley’s book a bestseller in 1882? The answer, St. Clair notes, is what we have always known. Readers were encountering adaptations of Frankenstein everywhere in popular culture, even if they could not get their hands on the book. Not yet the film franchise it would become over the course of the 20th century, the story of Frankenstein had become a mainstay in British theatres starting as early 1823. So the idea of adapting Shelley’s novel into a performance is nothing new, indeed the story exists first and foremost as a adaptation and part of visual culture.
Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is one of the best known stories of the Romantic era, yet readers may not know how much this novel reveals about the concerns, attitudes, culture, and practices of her time. Romanticism is the name given to Shelley’s era, a period of European culture that flourished in the wake of the French Revolution of 1789 and continued into the 1830s. It is a period of remarkable invention, social upheaval, and cultural innovation and is arguably a time that gives rise to much of contemporary culture. While it was dubbed “Romantic” because some perceived that culture turned away from its complicated everyday realities to focus instead on nostalgic representations of nature, its novels, poetry, drama, philosophy, and art actually reflect steady and thoughtful engagement with all of the ideas of the day. In the short essays below, we show how Frankenstein opens the door to understanding a great deal about Romanticism and its legacies in the present moment. If you like Frankenstein, you might also enjoy the novels, poems, plays, and other writing from the Romantic period we discuss here. More, you may be surprised to discover that Shelley’s novel comes from an era much like our own, which may help to explain its enduring fascination for us. Her novel confronts social challenges that we have not yet finished thinking about or solved.
What Mary Shelley’s novel tells us about the culture of the Romantic Age

Chapters

Explore the individuals chapters below. They each discuss parts of Frankenstein and introduce other works of Romantic culture and connect these elements to wider social and cultural concerns in the Romantic period. They each make a make a terrific introduction to Romanticism and are sure to enrich our understanding of Shelley’s most famous novel.
© Lorem ipsum dolor sit Nulla in mollit pariatur in, est ut dolor eu eiusmod lorem 2014