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GCSJ seminar series: French revolutionary politics in Frankenstein

Friday, July 14, 2023 - 12:00 to 13:00


Dr Alex Barber, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at The Open University.


Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) is many things, including a warning against scientific meddling and a retelling of ancient myth. In this presentation I consider it as political allegory. The prompt for doing so is a recently rediscovered novella written in revolutionary Paris three decades earlier by Francois-Félix Nogaret. Two characters in this earlier work are compared to Prometheus after each builds an artificial human. Startlingly, one is called Nicator (i.e. Victor) while the other is called Frankésteïn (a purposeful mutation of the surname Frankenstein). Excavating the politics buried in this obscure 1790 work helps us to see how Shelley was responding to the revolution and its aftermath. She was also engaging in debates her own parents, the political philosophers Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, had helped to shape in the 1790s.

The seminar series is organised by The Open University's Centre for Global Challenges and Social Justice (GCSJ). Established in October 2021, the Centre in the School of Social Sciences and Global Studies provides critical, interdisciplinary insight, and innovative, social justice driven solutions to challenges facing contemporary global societies. The Centre’s ambition is to understand the historical and structural underpinnings of contemporary societies; the systems of oppressions and inequalities they reproduce; and the resistances and struggles they generate.

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