Fictions of science in Mary Shelley’s 'Frankenstein'

Markman Ellis

Abstract


In recent years, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has often been described as the first science fiction novel. Brian Aldiss, himself a writer of science fiction, amongst others identified Frankenstein as ‘the Origin of the Species’ of science fiction. Such a description of course can only be true for a generation of readers who are comfortable with the expectations of science fiction, and Mary Shelley can have had no such expectations. However, in its representation of the creature’s creation through the reanimation of disparate dead body parts, the novel is clearly about science. This essay, which focuses particularly on Shelley’s representation of Victor’s education as a man of science, and his subsequent experiment with the creature, demonstrates how the novel establishes distinct kinds of experimental investigation into the meaning of life, some associated with science, others with alchemy. Such concerns reflect Shelley’s interest in the radical political culture of her time and the recent past. The novel negotiates the relations of dependence and disjunction between these concerns of science and politics in its language and plot. The form of the novel offers itself as a useful intellectual tool, allowing these disparate forms of thought to jostle up against each other, not in resolution but in colloquy. The novel form, and in particular the gothic mode adopted by Shelley, allows for the contradictions, confusions and errors of the science to be overlooked and underplayed, incorporated into the creative act of reading.

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