GREAT BOOKS 15: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, with Julie Carlson
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley wrote Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus when she was nineteen years old, on a bet. The novel spawned two centuries of creatures that turn against their makers. It examines the limits of scientific innovation, whether the quest for knowledge must be tempered by morality, and why human beings tend to ostracize, persecute and sometimes kill anything that does not look like them. I spoke with Julie Carlson, a professor at the University of California Santa Barbara and the author of a gripping biography of Mary Shelley's family, England's First Family of Writers: Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Mary Shelley (among other books). Shelley's mother was Mary Wollstonecraft, the first modern feminist and a free thinker vilified for her ideas of equality. Her father was a philosopher. In some ways, Mary Shelley was an experiment herself. We also discussed what it means that a woman wrote the first science fiction novel, and why the book and the "daemon" Shelley imagined still proves so powerful today, 200 years after its first publication.