Celebrating Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Contributions of Women to Scientific Discourse — Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus first saw print two hundred years ago this month. Written when Shelley was still a teenager, Frankenstein has long been classified as a Gothic novel, but in more recent years it has come to be seen as a pioneering work in the genre of science fiction. The term science fiction had not yet been coined when the book came out in 1818, but Frankenstein is clearly informed by the scientific discourse of its day. Like many contemporary works of science fiction, Frankenstein employs the conventions of fiction to delve into the motivations of scientists and to explore the possible ramifications of scientific research. As a woman writer and as the daughter of the famous feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley was keenly aware of gender-based biases, and she incorporated reflections on gender-related issues in Frankenstein. In some ways, Frankenstein is part of a larger conversation about the role of women with respect to scientific discourse.
Several faculty members in our English Department have a professional interest in Shelley’s Frankenstein. Matthew Rowney, for example, is using Frankenstein as the touchstone text of his Approaches to Literature class this semester. He will be applying the various theoretical approaches the course investigates to the novel. In conjunction with this class, he is arranging for a showing of one of the films towards the end of the semester. Alan Rauch is also using Frankenstein in his teaching. This semester he is including the novel as a required text in Writing about Literature. Alan’s interest in Shelley’s novel extends to his scholarship. Some years ago, he published an article titled “The Monstrous Body of Knowledge in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.”
Members of our department are also interested in topic of women’s contributions to scientific discourse. For example, this semester Jen Munroe is teaching an Honors Seminar (that includes some graduate students as well) titled “Gender, Science, and Nature,” which considers the gendering of “science” in the 17th century in England and reorients our understanding of the “rise of science” from the early through later 17th century to include women’s contributions as well as men’s. Jen has written extensively on this topic. Her published essays that deal with this topic include “Mary Somerset and Colonial Botany,” “First ‘Mother of Science’: Milton’s Eve, Knowledge, and Nature,” and “‘My Innocent Diversion of Gardening’: Mary Somerset’s Plants.” Moreover, she is addressing this topic in her current monograph project titled Mothers of Science: Women, Nature, and Writing in Early Modern England, which is an ecofeminist literary history of science that proposes a revaluing of the relationship between women’s everyday practices, nature, and writing in seventeenth-century England. Heather Vorhies is also interested in this topic. She recently taught a graduate seminar that looked at the Rhetoric of Science and that included women writers, and she is currently working on a scholarly project related to the contributions of women to medical communication during the early American republic.
For anyone who is interested in the connections between Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and women’s contributions to scientific discourse, I recommend Debra Benita Shaw’s Women, Science and Fiction: The Frankenstein Inheritance and Jane Donawerth’s Frankenstein’s Daughters: Women Writing Science Fiction.
Kudos — As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of the English Department. Here is the latest news:
Bryn Chancellor was featured in an article titled “So You Want to Be an Author: Eight Charlotte Writers Tell How They Landed a Big Time Agent,” which recently appeared in The Charlotte Observer. Here is the link: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article193234679.html
Katie Hogan is the author of the following two papers presented at the MLA Conference held in New York City: “Moving Beyond the Urban/Rural Divide in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home,” and “‘Examine Everything: On Being (a Former) Director of WGSS in a Neoliberal University.”
Lara Vetter presented a paper titled “Sexuality and the Inhuman in Storm Jameson’s In the Second Year” at the MLA Conference held in New York City. Her paper was on the Gender and Women’s Studies Society panel on “Gender, Representation, and Fascism.”
Upcoming Events and Deadlines — Here is information about upcoming events and deadlines:
January 12 — The English Department meeting will take place on January 12 from 11:00 to 12:15 in the English Department Conference Room.
January 15 — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day (university closed)
Quirky Quiz Question — The name Frankenstein is the last name of the scientist who is the main character in Mary Shelley’s novel. Does anybody know the first name of this scientist?
Last week’s answer: UNC Chapel Hill
The university libraries figured prominently in the relationship between Amy Dykeman and Alan Rauch, but a library also played a key role in the relationship between Dick Davis and Boyd Davis. Dick and Boyd first met in the library at the university where they both earned their doctoral degrees. Can you name this university?