Student Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

Honors Designation


Program of Study




First Advisor

Stephanie Hershinow


Mary Shelley developed and wrote Frankenstein (1818) amidst the rich intellectual and scientific developments of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century. Shelley’s understanding of developing intellectual theory is clearly influential to her novel—thematically reflected in the scientific innovation of her characters, as well as formally reproduced in her choice of narrative structure. In my study, I focus specifically on the newly-developing field of psychology, as its inquiry into the complex relationship between mind, body, and human consciousness is directly related to the novel, and to Shelley’s scientific and literary interests. Shelley was not only immersed in conversations about the developing psychological theory of her time, but she also understood the process of scientific development on a larger scale: the necessity of psychological theorists to break from conventional thought while simultaneously seeking validation for their innovations. In order to illuminate Frankenstein’s engagement with this process, I first situate the novel in its intellectual history, engaging with early nineteenth-century psychological theory and its related investigations into human consciousness. Then, through a formalist exploration of the narrative structure and stylistic detail of the first edition of Frankenstein (1818), I trace the influence of scientific theory of consciousness and human sociability within Shelley’s novel. Through analysis of Shelley’s engagement with developing psychological theory and her understanding of the contours of more general scientific development, I show that she employs a sophisticated epistolary structure alongside embedded tales to insert the reader into the narrative as an active participant in validating her characters’ scientific reasoning, and, in doing so, to encourage her audience to validate Shelley’s own innovative creation of the novel.



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