Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, the first work of science fiction, is 200 years old in 2018. When it was first published, how fictional did its science really seem? In order to answer this question, students in this class will explore original works of eighteenth-century science, philosophy, and literature. Students will approach Frankenstein through four contexts—literary, material, philosophical, and scientific—in order to think about its sources, revisions, and influence. Its literary contexts include Romantic poetry and John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
In addition to a generously annotated edition of Frankenstein, readings will include literary works by William Wordsworth, S.T. Coleridge, Percy Shelley, John Milton, and Erasmus Darwin; selections about the materialist-vitalist debate (William Lawrence, John Abernethy) and reanimation by galvanism (Aldini); and selections from philosophical works by Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, David Hume, and Adam Smith. Topics will include definitions of life, feral children, arctic exploration, cognition, sensation, and sympathy. Students will also study physical, visual features of both the original 1818 edition and the revised 1831 edition of Frankenstein as well as other significant editions held by USC’s Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.