Frankenstein Background: Historical & Literary Background to the Novel

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and extensive experience working in the business world as Director of Marketing and Business Development at a financial advice firm.

This lesson discusses the historical factors, as well as the literary influences that contributed to the creation of Mary Shelley's classic, Frankenstein. This includes the Industrial Revolution, and how it is reflected in the Romantic style of writing Shelley employs throughout the novel.

The Industrial Revolution

For many people, the Industrial Revolution was quite simply unbelievable. Many problems that had once existed were disappearing, and it seemed that the pace of science and technology would do away with modern humanity's shortcomings. In short, it seemed that anything was possible. Vast distances that had once taken weeks to cross were reduced to just a few hours by reliable railroads. Sea crossings of two months now took only two weeks. Goods from all over flowed in, and for the first time, a sizeable middle class was growing wealthy by putting brainpower to work. More than anything, however, was the idea that humanity could now approach knowledge of the divine when it came to solving problems. Aspects of life previously considered heretical to touch were now being explored by science and technology. For example, through the process of Galvanism, lifeless bodies could be stimulated with electricity. This new field would be central to Shelley's exploration of the dangers of unbridled technology in Frankenstein.

1818 edition of Frankenstein
Cover of Frankenstein

Romantics Left Behind

Not everyone was fully satisfied with humanity's progress. Some were left asking 'at what cost?' Notable among these were the Romantics: a group of writers who related to nature and to the earliest discussions of human rights. Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, was decidedly a Romantic. If there were two losers in the Industrial Revolution, it was nature and human rights. Once untouched forests were being stripped of trees and mined for coal in order to fuel the machines of progress. Meanwhile, those same machines were largely operated by an underclass that was now solely dependent on a wage that barely covered the basic necessities. Worst of all, even children were forced to work in abysmal conditions all in the name of making the society more economically competitive. If all of this was the cost of progress, then the Romantics wanted no part of it.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account