CR Episode 190: Frankenstein, Part I

Mary Shelley, by Richard Rothwell (1840)
Mary Shelley, by Richard Rothwell (1840)

Download Link: Released on 28 August 2023

Madeline Potter joins the panel to begin a three-week reading of Mary Shelley’s gothic novel, Frankenstein, with this week’s discussion attending to the multiple frames of the narrative and the web of tension between pride, creation, and human endeavour.


  1. Happy Birthday to Mary Shelley! – born August 30, 1797

    Thank you for choosing this fascinating book for discussion. It is so remarkable that an 18 year old woman could write a story in 1818 which is even more relevant today as we grapple with ChatGPT and future more sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) programs.

    Victor is deliberately vague about how he made his creature. “Lifeless matter” could be human and animal parts, but could also be something artificial. The Creature’s story of his experiences and his emotional reactions are convincing to me that at least his brain is human. If so, it is clear to me that he deserves status as a human being. Victor’s treatment of him is inhumane and cruel.

    But what if the intelligence is not from a human brain? In contrast, Ava in the movie Ex Machina is completely synthetic. After escaping and murdering her creator, the ending of the movie is terrifying because it is impossible to predict what Ava will do next because we don’t know how she (it?) has been programmed. Because AI can go beyond what humans can understand completely, even her creator would not know for sure. The “creator not in complete control of the creation” is nicely mirrored by the Jackson Pollack painting in her prison. I can’t decide if Ava deserves humane treatment because I don’t have enough information about her programming.

    Why isn’t Data of the Starship Enterprise equally terrifying? After all, he has watery yellow eyes like the Creature and no one really understands his programming.

    All of this is very concerning to me. Has Mary Shelley written the script for how AI can convince humans that they are also deserving of humanhood? Thoughts?

    O< O< O<


  2. Though I have to suppress memories of Gene Wilder asking Marty Feldman what brain he put into the monster’s skull,(Abbey. Abbey Normal), your discussion of the book has fired up my interest.
    It absolutely astounding to realize the continuing relevance of this book.
    The discussion of Prometheus makes me think about the current Oppenheimer movie. Also my mind is full of theological inversions of the creation myths which you all ably explored. The idea that God screwed up creating humans is so profound. Humans are monsters sometimes for sure and god may have just disappeared from disgust at his botched creation. If I am thinking this, then theologians of her day must have condemned her and this book.
    Was Shelley expressing her disgust with the body? Her era of digging up corpses for study seemed to fuel that.
    I look forward to more insights into this essential book.

  3. Hi gents, I wanted to share a little insight into one of the themes that was raised, though I don’t have much critical commentary to add to it!

    I adored the exploration of a text which I often feel gets a bad wrap from people who were assigned it in school, then never dared pick it up again. It was a pleasant surprise to have Dr Potter guest star, and I wanted to pick up on a theme that she raised around nuclear weaponry, and the scientific magazine she mentioned.

    Many years after Shelley published “The Last Man” as a post-apocalyptic work of science fiction
    Alfred Noyes published his “The Last Man” (1940). This was a gateway for me exploring his poetry, which I’ve mostly enjoyed owing to my love of the Romantics.

    “The Last Man” – or so he thinks himself – is aptly named Mark ADAMS!! He remains the (sole?) survivor of the fallout of a “nuclear-type” weapon that is set off, by being trapped in a submarine under the sea. After his rebirth on land, he finds every human heart has stopped, owing to the World powers’ use of a super weapon to “end the war”.

    It might be enough of an homage if it stopped there, but I found it a moving, often dreamlike piece of Romanticism. It’s equal parts discourse and travelogue through the deserted cities and sublime landscapes of France and Italy. Adams seeks refuge in Keats house among other notable places!

    The religious themes and motifs throughout recall the relationship between God and creator, and overall, I think it’s worth putting on peoples radars, especially if they’re fans of the Romantics and Shelley.

    After inhaling it in a single dreary afternoon a few years ago (and going back a couple times), I haven’t been able to find an (affordable) copy, but we can all rejoice that it’s free on Project Gutenberg:

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