Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature

Programming Ideas

REQUIREMENTS: An opening reception for "Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature" and a public program or series of programs led by a scholar about Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, based upon the themes and discussion questions presented by Betty T. Bennett at the planning seminar, are the minimum requirements for host libraries.

Libraries are strongly encouraged to present other public programs that will illuminate and interpret other ideas and themes found in the exhibition for their patrons, and to work with subject specialists to plan and carry out the programs. Programs may include discussions, debates, lectures, film series, seminars, related displays and exhibitions, and many other formats.

Your state humanities council has a list of scholars who have experience with public programming.

For adults

  • The Maine Humanities Council recently held its annual humanities weekend, this year focusing on Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. During the event, discussions included an analysis of the novel; the relationships of writers in Shelley's circle; the popularity of the Gothic novel then and now; the ethical and medical debate over human cloning and stem cell research; the links between Frankenstein and other archetypal figures such as Prometheus, John Milton's Satan, and Goethe's Faust; the monster in popular culture; and several movie versions of Frankenstein. One of the speakers was an expert in the history of blood transfusion. The weekend ended with a theatrical interpretation of the story. For information, please call Erik Jorgensen, Assistant Director, Maine Humanities Council, 207-773-5051. Jorgensen said the weekend was "one of the best we've ever had." "It was a truly multidisciplinary set of programs."

  • If you sponsor a reading and discussion program on Mary Shelley's book, consider having several sessions and dealing with one aspect of the book during each session. Use notes and discussion questions from Betty T. Bennett's presentation.

  • It has been said that Romanticism "changed the definition of what it means to be human." Present a program or series of programs on Romanticism in Europe, where it took place, how long it lasted, to what degree Mary Shelley was a representative of its principles. How did Romanticism view science?

  • Present a panel on the human gnome project or other aspect of current scientific experimentation with an attorney, ethicist, medical historian, physician, or other experts to discuss the social, legal and ethical issues involved in research.

  • What was the state of medicine during the 19th century in America? Was there the same interest in reviving the dead, blood transfusion, and other techniques discussed in the exhibition? Were there different preoccupations? Compare the cultures of the U.S. and England in this respect during the 19th century.

  • Compare the monster from Shelley's book with later depictions of him. Discuss the different depictions: Is the creature human or not? What makes him human? What makes him non-human? Which set of character traits are most prevalent in him?

  • Who is the true monster in Frankenstein? Is it society? Victor Frankenstein? Explain why there could be other monsters in the book.

  • Use the 19th century as a focus for a series of programs on the era's literature, popular philosophies, art, tourism, medical and other research, dress, theater, music.

  • Joseph Conrad said, "Fashions in monsters do change." Trace how the monster changed over the centuries by describing his character from the book, and comparing it to how he is presented in later plays and movies. Why did this happen? How does the figure of the monster reflect the values, fears, and hopes of the culture and the time in which it appears? Who are the "monsters" of today, and for what qualities do we label them monsters?

  • In film series, be sure to discuss how the film departed from the original novel (nearly all of them, except for Kenneth Branagh's film, are quite different from the book).

  • Ask a scholar to read from Mary Shelley's letters, and then lead a discussion of her life and times. Include a discussion of other novels that were popular during her life, and influences on her from literature and science.

  • Present a performance of excerpts from the 1823 play, P resumption; or The Fate of Frankenstein, or parts of it. Discuss how and why the play made changes from Mary Shelley's book.

  • Have a program on literary life in London during Mary Shelley's life. Include Mary Shelley's heritage from her parents, other works by her, and works by her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and other contemporaries.

  • Focus on women in the 19th century for programs. Discuss Mary Shelley's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, and other women authors and activists of the time. In what ways was Mary Shelley unusual for a woman of that time? How did most women spend their lives?

  • Present a reading and discussion program that compares and contrasts novels of the true Gothic genre with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, showing how Shelley transformed the Gothic genre (Betty T. Bennett's discussion alludes to this fact). You might consider The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story by Horace Walpole; Caleb Williams by Mary Shelley's father, William Godwin; The Mysteries of Udolpho or The Italian by Ann Radcliffe (Mrs. Radcliffe); or The Old English Baron: A Gothic Story, by Clara Reeve.

  • Many themes from Frankenstein are highly relevant today. Present a program discussing "the other," including people who look different, people from different cultures, people with different beliefs, and what American attitudes and actions are towards "the other."

  • Recreate Mary Shelley's world in complementary exhibits that show issues that were being discussed during her life, documents, broadsheets, costume, music, plays, the scientific world-a picture of the early 19th century in England.

For younger audiences

This is not an exhibition for children, but of course there are many monster-related activities children will love. A thoughtful idea for children's programming comes from the Community Library, Sunbury, Ohio:

  • Grades 1-2: Begin a discussion by asking why a book should not be judged by its cover. Use Stephen Cosgrove's book Creole to talk about the theme of not judging an individual by appearance, but by intentions and actions. Conclude the program with Hilda and the Mad Scientist by Addie Adam, and ask the following questions: How do you think most people would react to Dr. Weinerstein? How is it different than the way Hilda treats him? What kind of creature does Dr. Weinerstein make? Is it what he meant to make?

  • Grades 3-5: A multidisciplinary approach includes selections from David Wisneiwski's Golem to introduce some of the themes Mary Shelley develops in Frankenstein: humankind's power to create, responsibility for one's actions, prejudice, and good versus evil. The PBS Wishbone Classics Frankenstein will be discussed. Parts of Janet Perry and Victor Gentle's Mad Scientists will encourage discussion on ethical issues related to cloning and the role of the parent in a child's upbringing. Selections from the same authors' Manmade Monsters will lead to discussion about the limitations of electricity in starting a heart and the physical conditions needed for real organ transplants.

Programs with schools

  • With a lead teacher or teachers, sponsor a Frankenstein curriculum workshop for teachers in your area.

  • Encourage teachers at local schools to use themes from the exhibit in the curriculum during the exhibition.

  • Sponsor a special viewing of the exhibition for teachers only