English 199: Foundations of Literary Studies: The Myth of Frankenstein


Instructor: Mr. Humberto Garcia                          Office Hours: TR 12-1pm

TR 1:10-2:25                                                                    (by appointment)

Stevenson Center 1310                                             Office: # 401 Benson Science Hall

Section 04                                                                   Office Phone #: 615-322-2329

Spring 2015                                                                 Mailbox: (3rd Floor of Benson Hall)

E-mail: humberto.garcia@vanderbilt.edu




“Foundations of Literary Study” aims to enrich the experience of reading, writing, and reflecting on literature, while seeking to answer these questions: How are words stitched together so as to create “literature?”  By what means does a poem, novel, or film make us think ideas and feel pleasure?  And what are the tools through which readers are to dissect these artificial creations?  This course will look for answers to these questions by investigating one aptly chosen specimen of a living textual corpse—Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818).  We will read and re-read this cult classic from a wide variety of critical approaches to literature, i.e. the theoretical frameworks by which we bestow value and meaning onto literary texts.  The goal of this experiment is to develop your ability to read closely and attentively, think critically and creatively, and write and revise extensively.  We will observe how interpretations of Shelley’s novel shift according to different schools of criticism (i.e. formalism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, feminism, postcolonial theory, and cultural studies), while adopting an intertextual, historicist approach that considers the influential works of William Godwin (her father), Percy Shelley (her husband) and Edmund Burke (romantic theorist) as well as film adaptations of the novel.  By the end of the semester, you will have produced a well-written, well-theorized term paper on this novel and mastered the critical reading skills that will prepare you as an English major.





Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 2nd edition (Bedford/St. Martin’s)


Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (Oxford World’s Classics)


Robert Dale Parker, How to Interpret Literature, 2nd edition (Oxford UP, 2011) (do not order the new 3rd edition)


Classpak from Vanderbilt bookstore.


Online Course blog: https://foundationsofliterarystudies.wordpress.com/




Making Monsters: A Web Site Devoted to Mary Shelley and Her Novel Frankenstein (by Cynthia Hamberg).  http://home-1.worldonline.nl/~hamberg/.  It includes E-text, biography, links, summaries of plot and characters, and brief notes on contexts.


Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Chronology & Resource Site (Romantic Circles).  http://www.rc.umd.edu/reference/chronologies/mschronology/mws.html  Thorough and accurate timeline, texts of early reviews, and a short secondary bibliography.





Grade Percentage:

Weekly blog posts                                         25%

Creative writing project                                10%

Essay #1                                                        15%

Final Term paper                                           30%

Close reading exercise                                   10%

Attendance and Participation                        10%



Term Paper Project:


The term paper project involves two phases: (1) You will write a 5-6 page essay on one of the many broad topics that I will distribute ahead of time in class. (2) Based on my feedback, you will revise and expand the first essay into an 9-10 page final paper.  Both phases of the project involve critical analysis of a particular theme or idea that appears in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Secondary research is NOT required for the essays, but it is expected that you will adopt a theoretical perspective (or a combination of such perspectives) in your analysis and, if you wish, cite the critical essays covered in class when necessary.  However, original and provocative interpretations are foremost. [more information on the term paper project will be distributed later in the semester.]



Close Reading Exercise:


Early in the semester students will write a “close reading” analysis of one out of three specific paragraph (chosen by the instructor) from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  This assignment requires that students answer set questions about that specific paragraph first, and then write a short 3-4 pages essay that analyzes it in detail, word-by-word and sentence-by-sentence, based on those answers. [more information on the term paper project will be distributed later in the semester.]


 Weekly Blog Posts:


You are expected to post one blog entry every week on our course site based on assigned readings.  I will create a topic along with a prompt for each week.  I encourage you to respond to your peer’s posts, a passage from Frankenstein, or to a current event that is Frankenstein-related.  Posts are meant to be informal writing assignments that help generate engaging thoughts (or questions) about anything and everything that occurs to you while reading, as well as help you practice some basic academic writing skills (argumentation, paragraph development, close reading, etc.)  They serve as the basis of our class discussions (I will occasionally call on you to share some of your thoughts on it).  The posts should be a short paragraph (200-250 words), however they must be written sincerely and thoughtfully. Keep in mind that these blogs might be read by thousands of viewers online, not just by me or your peers, so expect strangers to comment on your ideas.  Although the blogs should be written informally, they should be well-written and spell-checked, with no grammatical/punctuation errors.  Students are required to create tags (as many as you want) for each blog post they submit; untagged blog posts will not receive a grade.  The last time you can post on any given week is on the due date, Tuesday or Thursday, by noon.


 Creative Writing Project:


By end of the semester, students will create their own “Frankenstein myth” for the twenty-first century using poems, plots, images, and other material related to Shelley’s novel in the context of contemporary events, concerns, or ideas.  The aim of this project is to draw on the novel’s plot and characters creatively to tell a compelling story about modern events, ideas, personalities, etc, using a combination of media.  On the last day of class, you will present your multi-media story within 10-15 minutes using your blog site, YouTube videos, images, or whatever electronic media (or combination thereof) you choose.  I will grade this 3-4 page assignment on the bases of your oral presentation mastery, imaginative originality, and effective use of multi-media.  [more information on this project will be distributed later in the semester.]





I will ask you to sign an attendance sheet in each class session.  Attendance and participation are essential in successfully completing this course and in attaining a decent grade.  The course is structured in such a way that if you were to miss a class or more it will become significantly more and more difficult to comprehend new materials to be covered in the next class session.  Moreover, this class really depends on intellectual classroom discussions and on your in-put into how this course could be shaped to your issues and concerns.  Hence, not only will your participation grade be lowered, but you will certainly offset your grades on writing assignments.  The same goes for excessive tardiness.  A score of 9-10 points will be reserved only for those attending, non-tardy students who participated frequently, substantially, and positively.  Warning:  More than two unexcused absences will be reflected in your mid-semester reports and in your final course grade by losing half a letter grade!  Excessive absences will result in an “F” for this course.



Excusing Absences:

I may be willing to excuse no more than two absences only in case of serious illness, family emergencies, or religious holidays/events, all of which require actual certified documentation or proof.  If you are going to miss class, please e-mail me before class begins.  It is your responsibility to make up missed work or know about any up-coming assignments.





Due dates are announced in advance, and I will be sure to give plenty of reminders.  All work must be turned in on the designated due date.  For papers, half a letter grade will be lost for each day it goes over the due date.  Late or missed blog posts will not be accepted.  I will consider make-up work only for exceptional circumstances that are brought to my attention two weeks in advance of the designated due date.





A word of caution: copying the work of another author and passing it off as your own is plagiarism.  Papers that you or anyone else has written for another course is also considered plagiarism.  If legitimate plagiarism charges are brought against you, you may fail the course.  Please keep in mind that ignorance of the Vanderbilt Honor Code will not serve as an excuse for breaking it and is not a defense against plagiarism charges.  Please consult the Undergraduate Honor Council’s page on academic integrity for more information: http://studentorgs.vanderbilt.edu/HonorCouncil.  If you are unsure about citing or using source references, please consult me.





If you require any disability-related accommodations, please contact me by e-mail, phone, in my office, or after class.  If there are any issues, problems, or anxieties, either with the course itself or something outside the course, please feel free to talk with me.  Even if I am unable to help you, I can certainly send you to someone who can.







Aside from the more specific grading criterion provided in the assignment handout, I have a more general criterion for determining letter grades.  As I read your essays, I am looking at five broad areas:


  1. Thesis
  2. Argument
  3. Paragraphs (including introductory and closing paragraph)
  4. Style (especially Academic Tone)
  5. Mechanics (spelling, punctuation, proofreading)



“A” Range: [A+; A; A-]

An essay in this range will have a strong, clear thesis that demonstrates that the writer has done some thinking on her or his own about the literary text.  Evidence (from primary sources) will be well chosen and lucidly and persuasively presented.  The title and introductory paragraph will engage the reader’s interest; the conclusion will provide a sense of closure.  Transition/topic sentences in each paragraph will signal the progress of the argument and transitions within paragraphs will flow easily.  The essay will be technically well written, with few or no typographical errors and few or no problems of diction and punctuation.  An “A” or “A+” is reserved only for papers exemplifying depth and originality in argumentation and close reading; a focused thesis that strikes the reader as unexpected or even slightly odd.  It will move well beyond the essay prompt to explore the argument’s implications, and will leave the reader asking new and provocative questions about the literary text.  “A-” papers meet most of the A-level conditions but have a slight problem in one of the five areas.



“B” Range: [B+; B; B-]

An essay in this range may be less strong in one or more of the five areas, or will be generally competent, but not particularly interesting; this may be the case when the writer hasn’t engaged seriously with the literary text.  It may be that the essay is reasonably well written, but seriously misinterprets or misuses a piece of evidence in a way that damages its own case undermining the author’s credibility and control.  The essay may present fine ideas, but express them so awkwardly that the reader must expend considerable effort simply to follow the argument. “B+” is reserved for a paper that has A-level ambitions but does not achieve them; “B” papers represent commendable work with no major failings, making a clear point without any originality that pushes significant boundaries; a “B-” represents commendable work as well, but with minor problems in one or more of the five areas.



“C” Range: [C+; C; C-]

An essay in this range has a serious problem in one or more of the five areas.  An essay without a clear thesis, for example, or one that is simply a summary of the literary text, will not receive a B- grade.  The same applies to essays which reproduce long passages from a literary text, but doesn’t analyze them as evidence for its argument.  A “C+” paper has latent good ideas, but needs to foreground those ideas to the center of the paper;  a “C” or “C-” paper lacks a strong governing argument, leaving the reader with the lingering “so what?” question.



“D” and “F” Range: [D+; D; D-; F]

An essay in this range has either completely failed to meet all the five broad areas and/or has seriously misunderstood the instructions or purpose to the written assignment.  An essay in this range is not considered academic, college level work.  A “D” or “D+” paper lacks a thesis and has very few or no good ideas at all, misusing or failing to use textual evidence.  It is often full of grammatical, stylistic, and formal problems.




Blog Post Grading Rubric:


Blog posts are evaluated on a letter grade basis.  Below is an explanation of what is expected from a post and the letter grade ranges.  Blog posts are evaluated according to the following four criteria:


  1. Conceptual sophistication
  2. Dialogue with readings/other blog posts/current events
  3. Artistry of writing
  4. Use of medium


“A+ to A-” Range:

These grades are reserved for an assignment that is well-written and concise (with few or no technical errors), establishes specific points, offers a working interpretation, and is not afraid to use creative mediums for self-expression.  The main criterion here is originality, defined as a clever idea or question that is surprising, unexpected, and not frequently discussed in class.  It involves providing a risky answer that tries to move beyond that which is apparent or obvious.  The assignment that is awarded this grade will have no problem identifying and explaining key passages in literary texts.



“B to B+” Range:

This grade is awarded to an assignment that has met most of the conditions mentioned above, but is not particularly well-written or concise and offers a vague interpretation that is not well supported by textual evidence.  A blog post that receives a letter grade in this range has done an adequate job of completing the assignment, but has not really offered an original interpretation.  Instead, it has provided an obvious or expected viewpoint in an attempt to avoid any risky moves.  It will leave the reader with lingering questions about extremely important issues or ideas that were skipped over or given insufficient attention.  Overall, this grade will only be awarded to posts that have made a serious and sincere attempt to offer an interpretation, but have avoided any form of daring creativity.  In short, a grade in this range means that you have done your job well but still need to improve your interpretation.



“C+ to C” Range:

These grades are awarded only to assignments that seriously misunderstand the post category or question, avoid offering any defined stance, and/or are poorly written.  Students seeking shelter in broad generalizations and redundant summaries, without attempting to offer a working interpretation or supporting textual evidence, will be awarded a grade in this range.  In short, a “C” or “C-”means that you have not really attempted to do a close reading of a literary text or, if you have tried to do so, that you did not bother to identify, explain, or articulate important ideas.  Moreover, those students who do not treat their posts seriously and sincerely will be awarded a grade below a “C-.”  By this I mean students who treat their blog posts as “busy” work and make little or no attempt to engage a particular text, question, or idea.




(C.P. = Course Packet; F = Frankenstein edition)



WEEK I (1/6, 1/8): Introductions


T: Review Course policies/classroom introductions

         Discuss myths about “Frankenstein”


Assign first blog category: Frankenstein: the novel vs. the myth


Due next Thursday (1/15) on Course blog by 10am


TH:  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (read Intro., Preface, and as much as possible)




WEEK II (1/13, 1/15): Reading Frankenstein without “Theory”


T:  Continue reading Frankenstein.  Recommended Reading: biography in “Making

Monsters” website, see (highly) recommended texts above.



TH:   Finish reading Frankenstein




WEEK III (1/20, 1/22): Reading Frankenstein without “Theory”


T:  Parker, Chapter 2, “New Criticism” (11-37)




TH: Finish reading Parker




WEEK IV (1/27, 1/29): Burke and Formalist Criticism


T:  Read Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry, Introduction & Part I (1-50)



TH: Read Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry, Introduction & Part I (1-50)




Week V (2/3, 2/5): Burke and Formalist Criticism


T:  Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry, Part II & III only (53-114)

Under “Course Documents” on OAK: Lecture on Burke and landscape paintings.



TH: Finish w/ Burke


Due: Close Reading Exercise

No blog post due



Week VI (2/10, 2/12): Intertextual Criticism


T: Percy Shelley’s “Mutability” and “Mont Blanc” (handout)

See “How to do a Close Reading of a Poem” (handout)



TH: finish with Shelley’s poems.




Week VII (2/17, 2/19): Marxist and Historicist Criticism


T: Parker, Chapter 8, “Marxism” (211-235)



TH: Warren Montag, The “Workshop of Filthy Creation”: A Marxist Reading of

Frankenstein (F: 384-395)




Week VII (2/24, 2/26): Historicist Criticism


T: Debates about the French Revolution: Edmund Burke, selections from Reflections on

     the Revolution in France (1790); Mary Wollstonecraft, selections from A Vindication

     of the Rights of Men (1790); and selections from William Godwin, Enquiry

    Concerning Political Justice (1793) (handouts)


Read “Introduction: Biographical and Historical Contexts” (F: 3-18)



TH: continue with previous readings.


Assign Essay # 1



Week IX (3/3, 3/5): SPRING BREAK

                                                                       No classes!!!!!



Week X (3/10, 3/12): Psychoanalytic Criticism


T: Parker, chapter 5, “Psychoanalysis” (112-131)



TH: Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny” (C.P.)




Week XI (3/17, 3/19): Psychoanalytic/Feminist Criticism


T:  finish w/ Freud.



TH: Parker, “Feminism” (148-178)

Anne K. Mellor, “Frankenstein: A Feminist Critique of Science” (handout)




Week XI (3/24, 3/26): Feminist/Postcolonial Criticism  


T:  finish w/ Mellor


       Due: Essay # 1


TH: Parker, chapter 10, “Postcolonial and Race Studies” (270-293)




Week XIII (3/31, 4/2): Feminist/Postcolonial Criticism


T:  Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of

Imperialism” (C.P.)



TH:  Finish w/ Spivak






Week XIV (4/7, 4/9): Cultural Criticism and Film Studies


T: Writing Workshop: on revising and rewriting an essay


Assign creative writing project.



TH: “What is Cultural Criticism?” (F: 396-409)

Bouriana Zakharieva, “Frankenstein of the Nineties: The Composite Body” (416-



Film screening of Kenneth Branagh’s film, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)

tentatively scheduled for Monday and Tuesday night, 4/6 and 4/7 (or watch on your

own before class)




Week XV (4/14, 4/16): Reimagining the Frankenstein Myth for the 21st Century


T: Finish w/ Zakharieva



TH: Creative Writing project due in class




Term paper final draft due Wednesday 4/22 by 5:00pm on OAK’s discussion board