Wendy Steiner

Watch a Video Introduction to Mary Shelley's ‘Frankenstein’

The Restless Classics 200th Anniversary edition of Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley, comes with a new introduction by renowned author and critic Francine Prose and a free online video lecture series taught by Penn professor of English Wendy Steiner. The towering masterpiece of gothic fiction that spawned the horror and science-fiction genres is the most recent installment of Restless Classics: interactive encounters with great books and inspired teachers. Each Restless Classic is beautifully designed with original artwork, a new introduction for the trade audience, and an online video teaching series led by passionate experts.

In this first video in the series Professor Steiner discusses Mary Shelley’s background and the origins of Frankenstein.

Mary Shelley was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, an intellectual of great stature in the late 18th century who was deeply versed in the philosophy and political theory of her time, and who wrote one of the great classics of feminist thought, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Her daughter Mary was the last of several children she had by different men, and Wollstonecraft died ten days after giving birth, leaving Mary to grow up without a mother in the house of her father, William Godwin. Godwin was also a preeminent intellectual of the day, and through his living room came London’s leading lights of intellectual and artistic life. While she didn’t go to school, Mary was exposed to some of the newest and most exciting artistic and scientific ideas in circulation. It was in that living room that Mary met her future husband, the poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. In 1814, when she was 16 years old, Mary ran off with Percy to Switzerland. Two years later they returned and lived in a house in the mountains above Geneva, next-door to a villa where Shelley’s friend Lord Byron was staying. One stormy night, the group, including Byron’s physician John William Polidori and Mary’s step-sister Claire Claremont, decided to have a ghost-story writing contest. That night Mary had a dream about bringing a dead body to life with electricity, and out of that dream came Frankenstein.