I , like Katherine, have also been teaching Frankenstein, in my case in the “Romantic Poetry and Prose” survey I’ve been conducting since September. It’s hard to imagine a version of that course that could dispense with Frankenstein.
For a start, the novel itself enacts a kind of retrospective postmortem on the Romantic period, with its quotations from “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Tintern Abbey” and Percy Shelley’s “Mutability.” At this stage in the academic year, I’m urging my students to look back and survey the literary history we’ve covered and, wonderfully, Shelley herself can look to be doing just wht I’m asking them to do.
Frankenstein is also--as all of us who have taught it know-- capable of seeming forever timely and relevant. This year, in my lecturing I followed, as I often do, the many scholars who have described the novel as Mary Shelley’s critique of the myth of solitary authorship and individual genius --a critique she enacts in the 1831 Preface especially as her recollections of the group ghost story contest, the books that fell into their hands that inspired it, the conversations about science to which she was “a devout but nearly silent listener,” all combine to diffuse authorial authority and sideline singular identities. (Mary Favret’s chapter on Frankenstein Romantic Correspondence still strikes me as the indispensable interpretation of Shelley’s project in these terms.) But this year I was able to refer to the film “The Social Network” as mounting a similar critique while it traces the lawsuits that call into question an account of Facebook as Mark Zuckenberg’s “baby” and nobody else’s. And, of course, rather more grimly, in thinking about Shelley as prescient critic of the costs of scientific progress my students couldn’t help but draw connections to the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan.
BUT . . . I also feel very slightly suspicious of my own attachment to the novel and worried about how often it’s taught in all manner of courses (with the result that very few of my students this year were Frankenstein-virgins.) So here is my question: what other novels do readers of this Blog assign or refer to alongside Romantic-period poems? What route do others take to supply the Prose for Romantic Poetry and Prose classes? In the autumn term I taught Castle Rackrent--a tonic dose of irony to offset all the sincerity of 1790s verse!. There are also great connections to be made, I think, between Edgeworth’s Preface and Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads. But Edgeworth didn’t shape our subsequent discussions the way it’s clear Shelley will be shaping them.