Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, written by Mary Shelley, is a giant in the world of English Literature. Regarded as one of the most relevant Gothic novel of the Romantic Period, Frankenstein has influenced more than just the culture sector. Written in the early 19th century by a women whose own story depicted the romantic ideal of her epoch, the novel is a take on morality, responsibility, scientific advancement and ambition. Frankenstein continues to inspire the horror fiction genre to this day.
Mary Shelley (30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was born in London, UK, into a well-educated family. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft was a feminist philosopher, educator and writer while her father, William Goodwin, a famous novelist and journalist. Though she received little formal education, her father played a great role in teaching her subjects. She very soon developed a sharp mind for politics and philosophy.
At the age of 16, Mary fell in love with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a radical poet philosopher who was a close acquaintance of his father. They declared love for each other, and ran away, travelling through Europe, as her father disapproved of the relation.
In 1816, Mary and her husband travelled to Geneva, on the shore of Lake Leman, to a cabin with poet friends such as Lord Byron, Claire Clairmont (Mary’s half-sister) amongst others. There, as the weather worsened, Byron proposed a game of writing Ghost Stories. That night saw the birth of the story as we know it today, Frankenstein. In 1818 the work was published anonymously, then re-edited a second time in her own name. It was an instant success.
She and Percy moved to Italy, where they lived a wandering life, creating large circle of friendships, focusing on writing, editing and debating. Mary lost two of her children during these years, and was prone to depression often.
After her husband’s death in 1822, she moved back to England with her only son, where she spent her remaining years writing (Valperga (1823), The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835), and Falkner (1837); The Last Man (1826) and others) and publishing her late husband’s work.
She died at the age of 53 from a suspected brain tumor. Her legacy at the time seemed to be as ‘the wife of Percy Shelley, and the author of Frankenstein’ but not as the determined and complete writer that she was. It is only in the past 30 years that a serious and academic recognition of her work has been brought to light. She is now recognized as a major romantic figure, but also for her political voice as a liberal woman. 123
The literary genre
Frankenstein is considered a gothic novel, written in the Romantic era (a period centered on the purest form of emotions and sentiments). Gothic fiction is a genre that combines fiction and horror, death and sometime romance. Gothic fiction emphases both on emotion and pleasurable terror, in a state called ‘the sublime’ or ‘an indescribable feeling that takes us beyond ourselves.’ 4
Mary Shelley’s work is also often considered as the first science fiction novel, though it does not provide any scientific explanation for the birth of the creature, but rather focuses on moral and consequences of such creation.
The international dimension of the work
Shelley’s artwork was heavily influenced throughout her life, by her parents, but also her husband and friends. Literary influence that appears in ‘Frankenstein’ are ‘Pygmalion et Galatée’ by Mme de Genlis and Ovid, but also John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ and Samuel Taylor Colerdge’s ‘The rime of the Ancient Mariner’.
As a fervent player in the literary world, she knew most of the English Romantic author intimately: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, etc, and there is no doubt that some influence came from their relationships.
Her work, first published in 1818, then again in 1823 was generally successful, but it is the 1831 ‘popular’ version that reinforced her fame. Shelley had revisited the version to make it less radical, and it was this edition that was published widely, to this day still.
Prior to the 20th century, opinions were somewhat divided as to her work, some recognizing her talent and imagination, other disregarding the gruesome fiction as absurd and flawed by the author’s own sex, a women. Since the 20th century however, the response was positive all around.
The story was adapted into a series of film, TV shows, but also videogames and other adaptation. To list but a few: The first film adaptation of the story came out in 1910, but the most notable film was released in 1931, by Universal Studio and directed by James Whale. In 1994, the film Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ appeared in theaters with actor Robert De Niro and Helena Bonham Carter. In 2007, Frankenstein, an award-winning musical adaptation toured around the world. And in 2012, Tim Burton directs Frankenweenie, a remake of the story.
The major issues of the time addressed
Mary Shelley grew up as a politically active and opiniated woman in a society that repressed certain philosophical thinking. She believed in the Enlightenment ideals that people could improve society through political power but feared that irresponsible power would lead to chaos. This is well illustrated in her novel, as per the absence of responsibility of Victor’s in his monster’s fate. Her work largely criticized 18th century thinkers that propagated these types of ideals.
The Gothic movement found strength in the disbelief that the human mind was the most powerful tool to reshaping society, as the American and French Revolution erupted, and the first industrial revolution forced workers into grueling working days in dark factories. They preferred to show the dark side of society linked to human progress.
Indeed, as the Industrial Revolution was roaring, Shelley began to ask how far the wave of advancements should influence mankind in term of personal and individual growth. She believed that men becoming too depending on technology would ultimately prevent their soul from flourishing. This idea, also reflected in the addiction-like behavior of Victor in search of answers and to the meaning of life and death.
The gallery of characters
- Victor Frankenstein: Protagonist and creator of the Monster. Obsessed with the secrets of life and death, he is very intelligent but terrified of his creation. He feels helpless, scared and guilty in the face of his monster’s atrocity. He falls ill often due to stress and horror. The Monster: 2.5m tall, hideous and ugly creation of V. Frankenstein. He learns to become intelligent and sensitive and tries to integrate human society but is rejected. He feels abandoned so he seeks revenge against his creator.
- Robert Walton: Artic explorer who befriends V. Frankenstein in the North. He listens to Victor’s story and tells it to his sister in his letters to her.
- Alphonse Frankenstein: The father of Victor, he loves his son and takes good care of him. He dies of grief after all the death surrounding him.
- Elizabeth Lavenza: A longtime friend of Victor who grew up with him and was adopted into the family. She becomes the love interest of V. Frankenstein and marries him. She is murdered by the Monster on her wedding night.
- Henry Clerval: A old friend of Victor who takes care of him after his first illness. They travel together for a little while but is murdered by the Monster. He is cheerful and witty.
- William Frankenstein: The younger brother of Victor. He is still a child when he gets murdered by the Monster out of anger.
- The Polar Region: Where Robert Walton meets Victor Frankenstein, barely alive for the first time. Walton’s ship is stuck in an ice sheet. Victor had followed the Monster to the end of the ‘world’ to kill him.
- Geneva, Switzerland: Where the Frankenstein family is from. Victor grows up there and comes back to Geneva when his studies are over.
- Ingolstadt, Germany: Where Victor goes to University to study. Ingolstadt is also where he will create the creature. Somewhere in the woods in Germany is also where the Monster spends a year learning human customs, languages and to read and write.
- Chamonix, France: Where Victor goes to purify himself and where he meets the Monster and listens to his story.
- Scotland and Ireland: In Scotland, he began to create the second Monster but stopped the process. He decides to throw away the remains in the ocean but gets swept by the currents and finds himself in Ireland where he is accused of his friend’s murder.
Iconography in the ebook
For this eBook, a series of painting from different movements and genres were used. The majority of the artwork were oil on canva paintings, which add a layer of depth and colour to the illustrations.
The maps used were designed by Clement Cruttwell.
Works from Frederich Caspar, a well-known Romantic and J.M.W. Turner were used often to depicts landscapes with broad strokes.
Francisco Goya’s imagination lies behind many of the ‘Monster’s images.
In this eBook, you will find artworks by: Clement Cruttwell, Friedrich David Caspar, Ivan Aivazovsky, Gustave Courbet, Francisco Goya, Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, George Romney, Paul Cézanne, Joseph Wright, Rembrandt, Theodore Von Holst, Arturo Michelena, Jean-Frederic Bazille, Carl Ludwig Hackert, Paul Delaroche, Isaac Levitan, George Seurat, Eugene Delacroix, Mykola Pymonenko, Alfred Sisley, Diego Velazquez, David Teniers the Younger, Pablo Picasso, Jean Andre Rixens, Aleksey Savrasov, J.M.W. Turner, Ivan Nikitin, Tintoretto, George Hemming Mason, Anne-Louis Girodet, Anthony Van Dyck, Ary Scheffer, Vicente Palmorali, Arno Nadel, and Alenza Y Nieto Leonardo.
The reading workshop
PHASE 1: ENTERING THE EBOOK: UNIVERSE, ATMOSPHERE AND HYPOTHESES
Activity: It’s Alive!
Pedagogical goal for students with little to no speaking and reading skills:Making a hypothesis, using ‘maybe’ in a sentence, using ‘is it’ in a question form.
- Music or audio with a grim and dark tune, to create a suspense and thriller ambiance.
- A computer and a projector.
- The ‘It’s alive!’ video clip from the 1930 Frankenstein film, found on Youtube.
- A well-known photo of the Monster as depicted most commonly (for the variant).
In the workshop:
- Play the music for a few minutes to set the tone.
- Then, play the short clip. The clip lasts for about 2 or 3 minutes, there is no need to play the entire scene.
- In the clip, we do not see the face of the Monster. Therefore, asks the students some key questions such as “What is happening?” “What do you think is under the sheet?” “What about the doctor, who is he?”
- This will introduce the main character of the story which will be relevant for the rest of the activities.
- Those who know the story already will reply ‘Frankenstein’, do not correct them right away (Frankenstein is the doctor). Some will say some keywords or sentences. Continue asking key questions regarding his appearance, his supposed characters etc.
Taking multi-sensory approach to teaching is always a good idea for students with DYS. They are able to use a wide range of skills that are not just simply about ‘reading questions and writing answers. Therefore, if the clip is not an option, the audio of the video can suffice, and the students will therefore have to imagine what the doctor created when he screams ‘He’s alive!’. If the participants do not have the comprehension level to understand the audio, the animator can take a large photo of the Monster and project it on the board.
PHASE 2: DIVING INTO THE EBOOK
Activity 1: Famous Monsters
Preparation activity for global understanding
Pedagogical goal for students with little to no speaking and reading skills:Exploring vocabulary based around making an hypothesis such as “maybe”, “perhaps”, “I am not sure but…”, “I am quite sure”, “I am certain”, etc.
- A series of images of famous monsters, based on the different cultures of the student’s classrooms. If the classroom is from the same background, prepare a list of famous monsters from common or pop culture.
- Labels with information about what the monster and what they do, for example: “eat children”, “kill” etc. If possible, these labels should have descriptive images on them as well.
- Some additional labels with character traits and actions linked to the monsters.
- An image of the Monster in Frankenstein
Before the session:
- Show the images of the Monsters on the board, with the labels on the sides of the board.
During the workshop:
- Let the students get closer to the board, so they can observe the Monsters and the labels. For students with little to no reading skills, prepare to name the labels and use the relevant descriptive images.
- If student’s recognize a monster from their culture, as them to move the relevant label under the relevant Monster. If the monsters are from pop culture, pick students to do the same based on their knowledge.
- Then, do the same with each Monster on the board. There is not really a right or wrong answers, this exercise is made to understand ‘what monsters do’.
- Do the Monster from the eBook last and gather prediction. Based on the image, what do you think this Monster does?
Activity 2: Facebook Profile
Global understanding activity
Pedagogical goal for students with little to no speaking and reading skills: Developing basic vocabulary around names, origins, place of birth, etc. used in regular form and to introduce themselves or others.
- A fake blank ‘Facebook’ style page with no indications.
- Printed images from the eBook (profile, cover, friends, etc.)
- Glues, pens and pencils.
Before the session:
- Distribute the photos and the profile in each group, with the tools necessary.
During the workshop:
This activity takes place after a first reading. Give the instructions beforehand.
- For this activity, students will have to create the ‘facebook profile’ of Victor Frankenstein. They will have to gather information such as name, background, family information, interests and education, etc. Ask students to read the story up to the point where Frankenstein and the Monster meet in the Mountains. Do not go further in the reading. The reading should be done without audio for the first time. This first part of the reading gives enough information about the main characters.
- Allow some time for students to jot down some ideas, and gather information from their reading. At this point, allow for a second reading, with the supporting audio for level 1 and 2.
- Then, split the students into groups, and give them some time to create their profile. They can also be create if they want, but remain on topic.
- Students with little to no reading skills will be able to use the images and photos from the eBook to work on the ‘visual’ part of the profile while stronger participants can tackle the interests and posts.
- At the end of the activity, ask students to share their profile, noting the similarities and differences in each. There can be a certain degree of creativity and supposition which can be interactive for students to engage with the reading.
Activity 3: Chronology
Fine-grained comprehension activity
Pedagogical goal for students with little to no speaking and reading skills:Learning how to use time sequencers and connectors to build stories.
- Images from the eBook showing key moments.
- A timeline on a blank A3 sheet.
Before the session:
- Distribute the images and the timeline to each group.
During the workshop:
This activity take place after the reading of the second part of the eBook.
- Students now have a better understanding of the key characters, and the location of the story. They can now focus on the heart of the story during the life of Frankenstein.
- Students will have to focus on the key moment of his life following his first meeting with the Monster. They will use the images of the key moments to create a timeline of events. Students should stop the reading when Frankenstein wakes up on Robert’s ship, leaving the end of the last activity of phase 2.
- Ask students before the reading to guess in which order the elements must go on the timeline. What is going to happen next? Is someone else going to die? Prepare a list of suppositions.
- Then, allow some time for students to read the chapter. The first reading should be done without supporting audio.
- Then, split students into groups and have them share their chronology and what they have gathered from the reading. Students with little to no speaking skills can use the images to order them in chronology.
- At this point, allow for a second reading, with the supporting audio for level 1 and 2.
- Students can now double-check their timeline and verify their answers with each other.
- Then, as a classroom, the animator can present the overview of the story. Note that they do not know yet how the story ends.
Activity 4: Who is the monster?
Fine-grained comprehension activity
Pedagogical goal for students with little to no speaking and reading skills: To introduce the vocabulary based around opinions like “I think that…” or “I don’t think that…” and depending on the level of the students, vocabulary such as “on the contrary”, “on the one hand, on the other hand”, etc.
- Labels with some key emotions, behavior, feelings relevant to those of the Doctor and the Monster (For students with little to no speaking skills).
During the workshop:
This activity takes place after a third reading.
- At this point in the workshop, students have read the story up to the point where the Doctor arrives at Robert’s ship. Ask the students to read the ending of the story, and the unravelling of events following Frankenstein’s death.
- Then, split the classroom into two groups. Groups should be heterogeneous, with students from all levels in each group.
- Assign to each group a character (Monster or Doctor), and write on the board the overarching theme of the debate: ‘Who is the real Monster?’
- Depending on the classroom level and their needs, allow for another reading of the story, with supporting audio for level 1 and 2. Readers should focus on feelings and behaviors of the main characters.
- Give some time to each group to gather their defense. Guide the students in the right direction, was the doctor right in abandoning his creature? Was the creature right in killing by anger? Did the doctor mistreat the creature? Was it his responsibility?
- For students with little to no speaking skills, allow them to use their flashcards with keywords to justify their defense.
- Then, once the preparation phase is over, let the students debate and defend their characters. Give 2 to 4 minutes to each group to present their defense, then allow some time for rebuttal.
PHASE 3: THE CREATIVE STAGE
Activity 5: Draw me a monster!
Activity of appropriation of the reading experience
Pedagogical goal for students with little to no speaking and reading skills:To sum up all the previously discovered vocabulary (hypothesis, opinion, feelings etc.).
- A3 paper, or posterboards.
- Various markers, crayons and other colored pencils.
- Scrap paper from news articles, old fabrics, buttons and other random items that can be used to decorate.
- Hot glue gun, or equivalent. Glue sticks might not be enough.
Before the session:
Distribute the tools and the poster to each group of students.
During the workshop:
- Break the group into small sub-groups of 2 to 3 students. Groups should be small enough so that each can get involved in the creation.
- Distribute the various tools to the group. Do not only stick to markers and pencils, but use buttons, tissues, scraps from various items to diversify as much as possible the creation.
- Then, ask students to recreate their own creature. Each student (or rather group of student) is Frankenstein, and they will have to create and bring to life their own Monster.
- While the creation takes place, ask the students to justify their creation by giving a background to their monster.
For students with dyspraxia, or general fine-motor skills issues, using scissors, glues, coloring in the lines etc. can be tricky. Therefore, another option for the creation of the monster is to use clay, or modeling paste. Students will have an easier time using their hands, and the results will remain… monstrous!.