A Serial Reading of Frankenstein

This Newberry Seminar is now concluded. It was held in the fall of 2018. 

Everyone has heard of Frankenstein, but how many of us have really read it closely?

2018 marks the bicentennial of Mary Shelley’s extraordinary novel, and this seminar is structured around a serial reading of the original 1818 text. Our weekly discussions will link details of each installment with the novel’s historical, philosophical, literary, and cinematic legacy. Please note the specific edition of the book required. Seven sessions.

Materials List

  • Please buy only the following edition:
    Mary Shelley, Frankenstein: The 1818 Text (Penguin Classics paperback, 2018)
    Introduced by Charlotte Gordon (ISBN-13: 978-0143131847). Other materials will be made available online and brought to the seminar sessions. For the first session, please read the introduction by Charlotte Gordon, and the preface.

Seminar Description

This seminar employs the format of serial reading in order to explore–in stages–the literary, cultural, cinematic, and autobiographical dimensions of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

With relatively brief reading installments as the basis of each week’s discussion (about 35 pages each), our focus will be on the world of the novel itself. As details of plot and theme arise and develop in these installments, we will have ample time to explore issues often overlooked in general discussions of the “Frankenstein story”— issues that invite a broader appreciation of Shelley’s life and artistic achievement.

The serial format will also allow us to consider, each week, some of the significant changes that Shelley made to the 1818 edition when preparing the 1831 edition, a version of the story that has influenced generations of readers, critics, and filmmakers. Our discussions will not only explore interpretive questions but also consider historical events, Shelley’s life, and early nineteenth-century culture.

Several of the seminar sessions will touch on selected supplementary texts from the Romantic and early Victorian period, excerpted in the weekly slide presentations and made available ahead of time in pdf form.

The seminar will also feature film clips, which will be shown and discussed throughout the seminar. While the cinematic legacy of Frankenstein is vast, our consideration of selected films will focus only on those films and scenes that facilitate a closer understanding of the novel itself (of course Mel Brooks is included).


Week 1
To be read ahead of time: Introduction, by Charlotte Gordon (vii-xxiii) and the Preface (1-2): both are included in the required Penguin Classics (2018) edition.

Week 2
Letters I-IV and Vol. I, chapters 1-3 (pages 7-44)

Week 3
Vol. I, chapters 4-7 (pages 45-77)

Week 4
Vol. II, chapters 1-5 (pages 81-112)

Week 5
Vol. II, chapters 6-9 (pages 113-141)

Week 6
Vol. III, chapters 1-4 (pages 145-178)

Week 7
Vol. III, chapter 5-end (pages 179-216)

Image: An Illustration by Everett Henry for his 1934 edition of Frankenstein,  part of the Newberry Library Special Collections (Call Number Wing ZP 983 .W162).