Several weeks ago, NPR’s Science Friday asked the question “Why is Frankenstein still relevant today?” Well, let me tell you a story:
Last week my World History class covered cultural reactions to the French Revolution. I like the Romantics well enough, but I also know there not everyone’s cup of tea – especially a group of ninth graders. Poe always gets their attention, and some find Cooper interesting because they’ve seen their parent’s copy of Last of the Mohicans, but as a whole they – and I – grow weary by the time we get around to discussing Byron and Shelley. Confession: “Ozymandias” is one of my favorite poems; my students are often less enthused than I.
This year, though, was different. It’s the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein, and I used that to my advantage. Percy Shelley and Lord Byron provided a jumping-off point to discuss Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and the now-famous storytelling contest. I told them how she wrote Frankenstein, launching the genre of science fiction and, in a way, bridging the gap between romantic and gothic literature.
The gears went ‘round, the sparks ignited, and the light bulbs went on.
“A woman wrote Frankenstein!?”
“Why didn’t anyone tell us this before?”
“Really makes you wonder what else they’ve been keeping from us.”
I feared the boys would give typical boy-like reactions, but I was pleasantly surprised. Only a few of them in that particular class are readers, but all of them have a favorite female author, and they were more than happy to tell us all about them.
One student asked “How did she do this in such a male-dominated society?”, and I was able to tell the class about Mary Wollstonecraft and her contributions to women’s rights movements. I tell you, the look of joy and wonder and excitement in their eyes was electrifying.
After class, one girl asked me, “Mr. Eldred, why are you so magical”? I didn’t have an answer for that, but she did: “You must be a unicorn in disguise.” Ninth graders, I tell you what.
The next day, a group of those same girls came into class excitedly discussing a marble rollercoaster project they’d begun working on.
“Just remember class yesterday,” one girl said, “anything boys can do girls can do better – and probably did first, anyway.”
So, why is Frankenstein still relevant? This is why.