In her groundbreaking gothic novel Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote, “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” You are all about to embark on sudden change, but know that you all have this fear of a huge shift in your life in common. You are all united in your common decision to choose WashU to be your new home and it is our hope that the Common Reading Program, facilitated by a dynamic faculty member, will bring you together even more. The reading program is only the first of many traditions to help you assimilate and bring you opportunities for discussion. You will get the chance to spend time with your residential college through many traditions, feel the uniqueness of your new community at convocation, get to know new people through Bear Beginnings and programs hosted by your WUSAs and RAs, and feel supported by the amazing people you will meet.
We will be reading Frankenstein in its bicentennial year. This powerful novel has remained relevant for its 200 years of publication as it helped develop the horror genre and used the uncanny as a clever way to spark discussions about gender, sexuality, what it means to be different, race, the limitations of science, god complexes, diversity, loneliness, and what it means to be afraid in a time when those discussions were not always welcomed. Throughout Shelley’s life, it was common for women’s authorship to be hidden behind a man’s name. She did not hide and her work was published with her full name on the cover. For her confidence and bravery in overcoming many tragedies in her life, she is considered an empowering feminist.
In 1816, Shelley spent time with her friend, Lord Byron, at his house in Geneva. They, along with several other prominent figures, discussed developments in science and the possibility of reanimation. Lord Byron dared all of his guests to write about their discussion, so at the age of nineteen Shelley began to write Frankenstein. As you delve into her awe-inspiring novel, I encourage you to read beyond the surface of her carefully chosen language as you will find moments that reflect your individual experiences and you will find that other WashU students feel the same way.