Course Content and Objectives

Course Description


This Honors Program first-year political theory seminar explores the intellectual relationship of Mary Shelley, the author of the novel Frankenstein, to her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, the author of the first book on women's rights, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Traditionally, scholarship has emphasized how the mother's death as a result of childbirth profoundly affected the daughter's psyche. Many scholars have then drawn the conclusion that the novel Frankenstein (1818) is the embodiment of Shelley's anxiety that she was the orphan monster responsible for her own mother's untimely demise.  While not denying the psychological power of this thesis, this seminar will explore how Shelley's devoted, even compulsive and passionate, reading of Wollstonecraft's works--including A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796)--around the time that she composed Frankenstein meant that the novel engaged the major themes of her mother's writings, including Enlightenment views of sex and gender, social and political revolution, equality and freedom, democracy, science, and human progress. Shelley's substantive and often critical engagement of her mother's Enlightened political theory shaped her own Romantic politics as represented by the novel Frankenstein.  In this way, Wollstonecraft can be seen as contributing to the birthing of Frankenstein's Monster not just through her daughter's psychological reaction to her tragic death from childbirth, but, even more importantly, through her profound philosophical impact on the political stories that are told by her daughter's momentous novel.  These political stories--the egalitarian transformation of the family, the viciousness of class conflict, the desire and demand for social and political revolution, the power of science in politics, the human need for respect and recognition, and the longing for progress--were embodied in Frankenstein and his Monster and have since roamed the landscape of the modern Western imagination.  Alongside our readings of the fascinating and sometimes scandalous lives and works of Wollstonecraft and Shelley, we will also read the Romantic writers who inspired them (such as Rousseau and Burke) or were inspired by them (such as William Blake, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron).

Required Textbooks



Component Percentage
Participation in Seminar Discussions 10%
3-page biographical essay 10%
2-page prospectus for research paper 5%
2-page outline and bibliography for research paper 5%
2-page introduction for research paper 5%
6-page draft of research paper 15%
3-page Frankenstein filmography essay 10%
Talent show participation 5%
Presentation on research paper: 10%
12-page research paper 25%
Citation: Botting, E. H. (2007, January 26). Syllabus. Retrieved October 23, 2014, from Notre Dame OpenCourseWare Web site:
Copyright 2012, by the Contributing Authors. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Creative Commons License