Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus

Art History I, Fall 2019 QUIZ #4 (FINAL)

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus (Volume I, pp. 1-69)


Nothing exists but as it is perceived. -Percy Bysshe Shelley, from A Defence of Poetry


Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus was written between the years of 1816 and 1817 and was first published in 1818. Mary Shelley (1797-1851) was eighteen years old when she began writing the story and just twenty at the time of its first publication. Mary Shelley was the daughter of the novelist and political philosopher William Godwin (1756) and the feminist and political philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797). For Mary Shelley, the creation of life was inextricably linked with the presence of death. Her mother died shortly after giving birth to her, and by the time of Frankenstein’s publication in 1818 Mary Shelley had already experienced the loss of two daughters, which in turn was followed in 1819 by the death of her son William, and the drowning of her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1822. The story of Frankenstein developed from a story-telling game Mary Shelley played with a group of family and friends that were taking refuge from bad weather in the mountains of Switzerland. Mary Shelley was familiar with many of the most recent developments in the fields of ‘natural philosophy’, or what we would call today ‘science’. Recent inventions and experiments in steam (e.g. steam engine, railroad) and electricity (e.g. the Leyden jar and the electric stimulation of muscle by Luigi Galvani) would proceed to drive the Industrial Revolution and inspire Mary. The Romantics (artists and poets) in England would react against the rationality of the Enlightenment and the early industrialization of England by focusing upon an approach to creativity that insisted on the preeminence of the artist’s (or poets) imagination. Mary Shelley, in her tale of Victor Frankenstein and his creation, produced a complex work that embodied the tensions in art as well as science and technology of her day. The role of creativity, imagination, science, and ethics all mix together in Frankenstein. For Quiz #4, we will be considering the power of imagination and creativity along with a thought for the moral responsibilities of the creative act. Frankenstein also offers us a look at the heightened aesthetics of the Romantics and the sublimity and hubris of the 19th century in England as well. Please consider and respond to the following five questions (plus one optional bonus question, 2pts) relating to Volume I of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. Please number your responses corresponding to the questions and make sure to add your name and course number to properly receive credit for your work. In the interest of legibility, please hand in typewritten responses (using Google Docs, Microsoft Word, etc.). Responses are due in class December 13th. Q1: The story of Frankenstein opens with a Preface by Mary Shelley and then follows with the fictional letters of Robert Walton written to his sister Margaret Seville in London. In one paragraph minimum, describe the journey Captain Walton is on, what is he trying to achieve as conveyed in his letters to his sister in London. What characteristics does Captain Walton display? Q2: In the fourth letter of Captain Walton’s, we begin to learn about the mysterious individual that is taken onboard Walton’s ship. Captain Walton becomes ever more fascinated with this mysterious person, and we learn that Captain Walton will begin to record the mysterious man’s story as it is related to him, and that Captain Walton will keep a manuscript recording the story of the man whose name is Victor Frankenstein. In a



few sentences compare and contrast the qualities of Captain Walton and the qualities of Victor Frankenstein (drawing upon subsequent chapters of Volume I). How do these characters view the world? Q3: Chapter one begins with a relation of Victor Frankenstein’s upbringing and youth in Geneva, Switzerland. We learn about Victor’s interest in alchemy and natural philosophy. Viktor is a character of extreme passions, very much a figure of the Romantic era, where passion and imagination provide the guidance and rationale for all activity (and there is no mild reactions). For Q3, looking Victor specifically as represented in Chapters 3-4, describe Victor’s passions, what is he driven by? What is he trying to achieve or aspire to, beyond simply the creation of life? What do you think Mary Shelley, the author, is trying to tell us about him? As a protagonist, what moral evaluation would you have of him? Q4: After shutting himself away and obsessing over his work as well as ignoring his friends and family, Victor is able to do the impossible, his creates life by himself from scratch. For Q4, in one paragraph minimum, why do you feel Victor has such a total disgust for his creation after it is brought to life? Victor works so hard and puts so much into the process, but at the moment of success Victor is absolutely revolted by the fruits of his labor. Victor’s dream becomes a hell for him, why? Q5: In Chapter V (five), Victor journey’s back to his childhood home from the university in Ingolstadt after learning the terrible news of his brother’s death. Victor arrives in the environs of Geneva at night in complete darkness, he then crosses the lake and during his voyage he sees “lighting playing on the summit of Mont Blanc in the most beautiful figures.” For Q5, in few sentences, describe and consider this scene in the mountains on the lake in the midst of the lightning storm. How does this storm relate to the mood of Victor create sublime event to frame the emotional impact of Victor seeing his creation for the first time since departing from Ingolstadt? Q6: Select your favorite moment from Volume I of Frankenstein and create an image (drawing, picture, etc.) or work that responds to that moment, add a brief description of the scene selected. Bonus Question: In Volume II (two) of Frankenstein, there is a conversation that takes between Victor and his creation. For 2pts, in two paragraphs consider what the nature of the conversation that Victor and creature have before the creature goes on to tell his story to Victor. What moral framework is the creature trying to present to Victor? What is the dynamic between Victor and his creation at this point?

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