[In Our Time] Frankenstein


16/05/2019 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: http://podplayer.net/?id=70907988
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p079ctsw.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Mary Shelley’s (1797-1851) Gothic story of a Swiss natural philosopher, Victor Frankenstein, and the creature he makes from parts of cadavers and which he then abandons, horrified by his appearance, and never names. Rejected by all humans who see him, the monster takes his revenge on Frankenstein, killing those dear to him. Shelley started writing Frankenstein when she was 18, prompted by a competition she had with Byron and her husband Percy Shelley to tell a ghost story while they were rained in in the summer of 1816 at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva.

The image of Mary Shelley, above, was first exhibited in 1840.


Karen O’Brien
Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford

Michael Rossington
Professor of Romantic Literature at Newcastle University


Jane Thomas
Professor of Victorian and Early 20th Century Literature at the University of Hull

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: 2019-05-29


  • Confession: I read Frankenstein in my last semester of college, and absorbed effectively nothing. For whatever reason, I wasn’t very receptive then; and a whole bunch of what was discussed in the podcast – especially the stranded ship captain –  came as absolutely new stuff to me. Time to try reading it again, I suppose.
  • I couldn’t help but compare my reaction to Mary Shelley in this episode to my reaction to Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the episode on Aurora Leigh. When I had heard that, I reacted with immense judgement, largely centred around “Elizabeth, you are nineteen and have spinal tuberculosis. Marrying some guy because he liked your poem about his poem so much that he proposed to you without having even met you is hardly sensible.” But MWS also eloped with a poet at a young age; and I don’t have the same withering judgement for her. That may be either because I’m biased to prose over poetry, and think Frankenstein outdoes anything Elizabet Barrett Browning ever did, so all is forgiven; or because the reputation of Mary Shelley and her parents as legendary nineteenth century badasses is so powerful that judgement just bounces off them. Or both. There was, after all, never a Bela Lugosi starring movie based on anything by EBB.
  • Because I am a little obsessive, one of my first reactions was “Oh, this is early antinatalism! The creature hates his creator / father for having created him and brought him into this cruel world.”
  • All other reactions to the episode were mostly ones centred around “Damn, I need to read it again.”
  • I was blessedly free from pop culture distractions while listening to this episode, even though so many would have been possible.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s