Scientific Aspects In Mary Shellys Frankenstein English Literature Essay

Modified: 1st Jan 2015
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“Science has made us gods even before we are worthy of being men.” – Jean Rostand. The novel of Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley, debuted on the January of 1818, demonstrates the ideas of the quote in an extensive form of writing. (Shelley, 1918) It introduced many concepts that were known as “taboo” at that time. It demonstrated an impending world of science, as well as the consequences of it. Frankenstein was known as the first science fiction. It explored many topics of science, which challenged the ideologies of men and nature. The novel brought onto account the issues that men, prominently religious men, thought about, such as the likes of alchemy, the manipulation of electricity, and the famous concept of “the creation of life itself.” Her perception of science, which mostly dealt with Science vs. religion, her ideology against science and rationality, and the fear of scientific advancement, was incorporated into the novel. Science greatly influenced the novel of Frankenstein.

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During the era of Frankenstein, an impending dilemma was the church vs. science, which brought about the fears of science. Mary Shelley was on the side of the church; due to her religious background, and felt science would consume humankind. New ideas of scientists challenged what the church interpreted as God’s perfect world. One of the biggest advancements in science came when Erasmus Darwin wrote two books, which challenged the theory that that world was fixed, and “godly perfect.” Those books were The Laws of Organic Life, and the poem The Temple of Nature. He also wrote the Botanic Garden, which also challenged belief of the church, as well as god. “While most scientists had viewed the universe as perfect, fixed, and divinely ordered well into the eighteenth century, Eramus Darwin, as well as other scientists began weakening this view by the beginning of the nineteenth century” (Black, 1999). He believed that in the beginning, the earth was surrounded by water, so most likely, all life must therefore have originated from the sea. Darwin also thought that sexual reproduction was the most advanced method of creation. Mary Shelley incorporates the fears on the ideology of evolution into Frankenstein. She does it by opposing the theory of Darwin, where she advances a man-made creation in Frankenstein. She believed that science will one day lead to god like creations. “Unable to contain or control his creation, whose prodigious powers have been turned toward destructive ends, Frankenstein comes to fear that he has unleashed “a race of devils … upon the earth, who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror” (Shelley 1982, p. 163). The monster of Frankenstein demonstrated the consequences of this occurring, in the image of the monster, which leads back to her fear of scientific advancement. “At the heart of Frankenstein is the tension between the powers of science confers on individuals and the just restraints of community” (Latham, 2011) “Frankenstein, both creator and creature, stands not for science in general but for the acquisition of scientific power foolishly pursued without the wisdom of the world” (Latham, 2011). Mary Shelley also correlates religion with Victor Frankenstein’s science motives. “Victor reports the creature’s narrative which includes his plea and his reported story of Felix (happiness) and Safie (wisdom), Christian-Muslim lovers who are promised help against prejudice and the opportunity to marry by Safie’s father, but are betrayed by him. The creature learns the lovers’ tale overhearing them in a cottage through a knothole in the wall of the outer shed he has been occupying while altruistically providing firewood for the blind old man who lives there. With the couple on the scene, the creature learns to read just by watching their sharing aloud three books: Milton’s Paradise Lost, which concerns disobedience and provides Frankenstein’s epigraph, fallen Adam’s plea to God” (Rabkin, 2005).

Mary Shelley characterized Victor Frankenstein with the characteristics of scientists during her time. “The dual sense of possibility and dread that characterizes Frankenstein and the age in which it was written owed much to the scientific advances of the time. Though the so-called Scientific Revolution had begun in the late seventeenth century, it was only in the later eighteenth that science began to take on the prestige and value in popular culture that made it an important part of people’s lives. Indeed, public awareness of developments in science increased steadily in this period”(Turgeon, 2001).  The scientists of her time were known to be “atheist.” Victor Frankenstein also exhibits this characteristic, as he refuses to accept the concept of god. “The materialist scientist–and the popular mind that takes the mythic figure of Frankenstein as frightening in his reductive materialism is not mistaken–the matter of Nature must be passive, the cosmological object must be evacuated of Divine agency, and the repeatability of the experimental discovery must be kept in the grasp of human control or human understanding” (Bartlett, 2007. “The human control is the “evidence” for the death of God and the legitimacy of the human playing God” (Bartlett, 2007). He wants to find answers to the wonders of nature. To this extent Victor Frankenstein become known as a “mad scientist” due to the extent he goes through to find these answers. Mary Shelley also seemed familiar with the work of Benjamin Franklin, and his research with electricity. She describes Benjamin Franklin as an influence on Victor Frankenstein, in the first edition of her novel. Just as Victor tried finding out the laws of nature, so did his real life counter parts, which consisted of many scientists, such as Isaac Newton, and Darwin.

Mary Shelley’s idea for the creation of the monster came from the science of electricity. The 18th and the beginning of the 19th century showed an incredible development in the knowledge of electricity. Inventions, such as the dry pile, and battery of cells clarified the uses of electricity, and how it could be manipulated. Electricity was even used to revive the dead in 1803. “In 1803 a more lurid demonstration took place, in which galvanic electricity was applied to the corpse of a recently hanged criminal, whose jaw began to quiver, adjoining muscles, horribly contorted, and left eye actually opened” (Mellor, p. 105). It was also used with animals. The power of electricity was publicized greatly throughout Europe in the early nineteenth century, and Mary Shelley was also familiar with it. Electricity was a major concept in Frankenstein. She based the creation of the Frankenstein monster with the manipulation of electricity, she feared what would happen if the experiments of the trials on dead corpses succeeded, and came up with the idea of her monster, in which it was resurrected, by electricity. The idea of manipulating electricity also paved the way for the mad scientist, which was Victor Frankenstein. The science of electricity also helped build the characterization of the major characters of Frankenstein. “The most vital spirit in Frankenstein-at all stages of its textual history-is the natural spirit of magnetism/electricity. Under the heading “Magnetism” in Frankenstein’s Creation I argue that electro-magnetism is the symbolic link between “Walton’s quest for the North Pole and Frankenstein’s interest in animating dead flesh…” (78). At the North Pole (where, according to a revealing Thomas copy substitution, “the aspect of nature differs essentially from anything of which we have any experience” Walton hopes to “discover the wondrous power which attracts the needle” and “the secret of the magnet” Frankenstein, we are led to believe, uses the natural power of electricity to imbue his assemblage of natural human remains with life. In Frankenstein’s Creation I also argue that the demon “is at least as much a creation of the” sublime Alpine setting as of the laboratory (70). Thus it is the partially suppressed notion of natural magic-evident as the natural spirits or powers of Mont Blanc and other mountains, and the moon, in addition to magnetism, and electricity-which provides the foundation for all of Frankenstein’s supposedly more modern scientific endeavors” (Ketterer, 1997).

Frankenstein follows a chronological viewpoint in Mary Shelley’s world of science. Mary Shelly familiarized herself with the modern scientific advances of her day, so she could correctly implicate the history of science, as well as its achievements. Victor Frankenstein transitions from the magical sciences, such as alchemy, into the modern sciences, such as chemistry, and rationally questioning his previous ideology of alchemy. The novel mentions many scientists, such as Couvier. “With the shifted, slightly revised insert in place, the blasted tree dramatically signals Frankenstein’s “conversion” from alchemy and the occult to modern science, a distinction which does not exist in the two cancelled passages which the now divided insert replaces. As a result of the Last Draft insert and the related Chapter 4 which follows, Frankenstein is supposedly “converted” from his passion for such ancient philosophers as Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Albertus Magnus to modern chemistry in particular. But in fact significant traces of Frankenstein the alchemist and natural magician remain in the Last Draft and in the three editions of Frankenstein” (Ketterer, 1997). This illustrates the real world’s chronological history of sciences, where scientists, such as Isaac Newton rationalize the order of the universe. Although he does it indirectly, he rationalizes how everything works, which was taboo at the time. Mary Shelley used this to demonstrate how the scientific world was becoming stronger, and the evils, which would consume humans, if the scientists seek more knowledge. Victor Frankenstein went from practicing alchemy, into creating life with electricity. This clearly demonstrates how quick science was evolving, during her time.

To combat science, Mary Shelley used romanticism as a topic of Frankenstein because she felt science would take over the minds of her time. The Science of Frankenstein introduced Mary Shelley’s writing with the belief of Romanticism. “Romanticism emphasized emotion and sensation over abstract reason, the subjective and personal over the objective and the irrational over the rational. “Romanticism can be seen as a rejection of the kind of eighteenth-century rationalism and materialism that characterize Victor Frankenstein’s science” (Black, 1999). Mary Shelley felt she should science should be opposed by an unexplainable force, so it shows the boundaries of science. “Part of the Romantic project was to point to the limitations of science, and to illuminate those aspects of experience that an overly reasoned science tended to neglect. Intuition and imagination were just as important as reason, the Romantics argued, and yet were excluded from scientific analysis-as were inner experiences like the appreciation of nature or beauty. Indeed, the misery accompanying the Industrial Revolution demonstrated to many Romantic writers the limitations of science as a means to salvation and happiness” (Turgeon, 2001).

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“Modern critics agree that Shelley’s depiction of a godless world in which science and technology have gone twisted continues to be a powerful metaphor for the modern age” (Rabkin, 2005). Gilbert and Gubar felt that science of Frankenstein was comparative to becoming god. “Victor Frankenstein, his author and superficially better self, the monster enacts in turn the roles of Adam and Satan, and even eventually hints at a sort of digression into the role of God, and Victor Frankenstein temporarily enacts the part of a God, a creator, a master, albeit a failed one.” (Gilbert and Gubar, 1984). Anne K. Miller felt that Mary Shelley was one of the first people to understand and demonstrate dangers of scientific advancements. “Mary Shelley used her scientific knowledge both to analyze and to criticize the more dangerous implications of the scientific method and its practical results, in her novel Frankenstein” (Mellor, 1988). Kevin Patrick Mahoney felt that Mary Shelly also foresaw the horrors of scientific advancement, but he felt that Mary Shelley had actually rationalized science as good, but it needed boundaries. “It changes the story if Walton’s narration is left out, for then Frankenstein can be presented as a universal example of the dangers of any scientific advancement. It changes the story if Walton’s narration is left out, for then Frankenstein can be presented as a universal example of the dangers of any scientific advancement” (Mahoney, 1991).

Readers recognize Frankenstein as a world full of scientific intrigue. Mary Shelley felt that the current pace of science in her time would one day prove to be a threat against humanity. Although Mary Shelley opposition of science, actually inspired much of Frankenstein, and she had kept up with the current science of her time. To express her belief, Mary Shelley incorporated the conflict of an ever developing scientific world. It was “crazy” to think a man, nonetheless even more amazing a woman, could express their belief of science in a novel. “In Frankenstein, Mary Shelly illustrated the potential evils of scientific evils of scientific hubris and at the same time challenged the cultural biases inherent in any conception of science and the scientific method that rested on a gendered definition nature as female” (Mellor, 1988). Without the aspect of science in the novel, the story will not have the same atmosphere, nor will it have paved the way for other scientific novel at a later time.


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