The unit is composed of four divisions: biographical study of the Shelleys as individuals and as a couple; literary study of Percy Bysshe Shelley's poems; literary study of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's novel, Frankenstein; and a synthesis of these elements into a cohesive whole.
Students' study of the lives of Percy and Mary Shelley will begin with a brief overview of their parents' lives (with reference to materials students have already read by William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft), their individual lives prior to meeting, their life together, and Mary's life after Percy's death. Student readings for this portion of the unit will be drawn from various sources and materials including excerpts from Julie A. Carlson's England's First Family of Writers: Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Mary Shelley; Maurice Hindle's introduction to the 1992 Penguin edition of Frankenstein; Letters of Mary Shelley; Robert Metcalf Smith's The Shelley Legend; samples of letters written by Percy Shelley; excerpts from Percy Shelley's "A Defense of Poetry;" and Richard Holmes's Shelley: The Pursuit.
Students will also conduct guided research on a selected element of the Shelleys' lives and present their findings to their classmates in a PowerPoint presentation. This cooperative process of research and presentation will provide a broader and deeper identification with these two as individuals, allow students to begin an authentic discussion of the writers and their lives, and provide a first step in fostering a connection between students' own lives and the lives of the Shelleys.
You could spend an entire school year studying Shelley's poetry; the catalogue of his writings is extensive, and each of his works adds something to the puzzle of understanding him as a poet and as an individual. While some of the shorter poems will be used as introduction to the style and craft of his writing, the majority of study in this area will be with two poems: "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" and "Ode to the West Wind." Using these two works, students will analyze Shelley's adherence to the conventions of romanticism. Also, these readings will allow students to solidify their understanding of his poetry as a reflection of the elements they studied in their biographical research.
Classified as both a Gothic horror novel and a piece of Romantic Literature, Shelley's Frankenstein has become a household word in many cultures. The themes of the novel, the hazards of human intervention in the natural world and the formation of identity through (sometimes tragic) personal experience, are as relevant today as they were in 1818 when the novel first appeared. The lessons surrounding the novel will focus on three areas. First, students will connect events from Mary's and Percy's own life-tragedy and struggle, a profound interest in science, a love of the natural world--to the events that make up Walton's, Frankenstein's, and the Creature's tales. This aspect will call on students to return to their research from earlier in the unit. Second, students will analyze the novel as an expression of romantic ideals and connect these with the implications of the novel for today's world. Third, students will explore the literary conventions Shelley employed in crafting the novel, specifically her methods of developing characterization of Walton, Frankenstein, Elizabeth, and the Creature and the framing of the narrative within the context of Walton's exploration to develop an allegorical connection between characters and the realities of scientific progress.
As a culmination of the three former areas study, students will look at the connections between the lives and literature of Mary and Percy Shelley and draw a conclusion about one of them as a writer and individual. Students will write an analysis paper in which they draw a conclusion about the role of an author's personal life in the creation of a piece of literature (fiction or poetry). Students will work from a thesis in which they postulate an idea of the role of reality in the act of literary creation. Students should draw the other elements of the unit (biographical research, Percy's poetry, and Mary's novel) in their development of this idea.