A Fascination with Mystery and Horror: Edgar Aallen Poe and Mary Shelley

A Fascination with Mystery and Horror: Edgar Aallen Poe and Mary Shelley
Dolley Madison: Education, Arts, Letters and Ideas

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: Four to five class periods


During Dolley Madison’s lifetime, two early authors of American horror stories/poems produced their most well known works.  These two authors are Edgar Allen Poe (The Raven) and Mary Shelley (Frankenstein).


Students will develop literary interpretive skills by reading works by Poe and Shelley.  Students will become familiar with the characteristics of a horror or mystery literary work.

Materials Required:

Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley texts.  Access to the Internet.  Word processor (or paper and writing utensil).  Research tools (books, videos, photos, and magazines).  Printer (with color if using art program).


1. Start a class discussion by asking students if they have ever viewed a horror or mystery film or read a horror or mystery book.  Ask students what they think the characteristics of a horror or mystery story might be.
2. If possible, locate textbooks for your students that include works by Poe and Shelley.  If physical textbooks are not available, locate them online.  Possible sites are listed below.

3. Instruct students to read one or more passages that you select.  Encourage them to make notes of observations and questions about unclear details of the text.
4. Place students in small groups to discuss their findings, questions, and details.
5. Assign individual students a writing assignment where they explain their understanding/interpretation of the stories or poems.  Students should discuss different parts of the text in relation to the characteristics of a horror or mystery. 
6. On the due date, ask students to discuss their observations/interpretations.  Write the observations, interpretations, and characteristics on the board to allow for a class discussion.

Extending the Lesson:

Use an appropriate video rendition of your selection(s) to show to the class.  Ask your students to write a comparison of how the video’s interpretation was different from their own.  Ask the students if there are similar horror and mystery characteristics in movies and text.

Sources & Resources:


   My Hideous Progeny

   A Summary of Modern Criticism

   Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

   The Museum of Edgar Allen Poe

   Edgar Allen Poe's writings


This lesson was developed by Marian Maxfield, Kent State University.