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Oak Leaves

October 27, 2018

Frankenstein VIA

Left to right: Dr. Katharine Ings, Dr. Seth Mayer and Dr. Christer Watson discuss the impact of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” on education with a emphasis on English, gender studies, philosophy and science. 

 

Photo by Laura Mayorga Mejia

Panel Educates Students about ‘Frankenstein’


Tiffany Williams

 

Cordier Auditorium slowly filled as students arrived for the VIA panel discussion of Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein,” which recently celebrated its 200th birthday. Faculty from English/gender studies, philosophy and physics all talked about how the novel informed their discipline.

The event started off with Dr. Katharine Ings, professor of English and director of gender studies, thanking everyone for coming and inviting them to complete a brief online survey before the panel began regarding any previous knowledge they had about “Frankenstein.”

The discussion started off with Dr. Seth Mayer, assistant professor of philosophy, who talked about the issues with ethics, or moral responsibility, in the book. Mayer posed the question, Who is responsible for the monster’s actions?

He then featured different types of actions such as causal, purposive and intentional, all of which show the difference between cause and effect. As Mayer said, someone may intend to do something good but accidentally end up with a negative outcome, or involuntarily cause more harm than good, which thus leads into who or what is responsible for something happening.

While Mayer didn’t seek to find the answer to who is responsible for the monster’s actions, he provided good insight to what scientists should be responsible for, which prompted Dr. Christer Watson, professor of physics, to talk about the scientific outlook on the novel.

To open up the discussion of where “Frankenstein” fit into the history of science, Watson depicted a timeline of where science had progressed to at the time the novel had been published in 1818. In the 1600s, calculus and physics had been developed, whereas chemistry did not come about until the 1700s, the book had then been published before electricity, atoms and chemical bonds had been discovered.

According to Watson, the boundaries of science weren’t as pronounced when the book was published. This created space regarding what was allowed to be thought from a scientific perspective when new things were being discovered.

Watson then discussed how the fear of making new discoveries of life secluded Dr. Frankenstein from society, causing him to act in an irrational way. Mayer added that it was not because he made a new discovery that drove him from society but how he created the monster.

The next topic was brought back to the host, Dr. Katharine Ings, who briefly touched on Mary Shelley’s personal history before the book was written. Ings noted that Shelley had grown up without her mother, who died 10 days after giving birth to Shelley, and that Shelley had also lost her first-born.

The idea for the novel came to Shelley in a dream, but Ings thinks some of the themes in the book suggest the monster could be symbolic of Shelley looking for a maternal figure.

The panel closed its discussion with a language lesson on a portmanteaux, two words that combine to make one new word. Ings then showed many examples of how Frankenwords had come to exist, showing that Mary Shelley’s work is a continuing influence on society.