Good and bad science

Masculine and feminine

The argument about science in Frankenstein is quite complex. Mary Shelley believed, as Anne K. Mellor (to whom this section is greatly indebted) has argued:

  • there is both good and bad science
  • they can be associated with masculine and feminine attitudes.

Scientific language, certainly from the time of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, assumed that:

  • nature was feminine
  • the scientist was masculine
  • they existed in a sexual relationship that was not necessarily consensual.

Application of current scientific thought

Nature was the fertile, passive, submissive female participant or victim of the male scientist's desire to penetrate her mysteries. But for Mary Shelley, to approach nature without the necessary respect or modesty was to threaten its autonomy and violate its organic processes.

It was central to Erasmus Darwin's proto-evolutionary conception of nature that both male and female seeds (as he called them) were required to ensure that the necessary characteristics of species were passed to the next generation. Frankenstein completely disrupts this natural process by:

  • removing the female contribution to the monster's creation
  • denying it any opportunity for maternal love and nurture.

Frankenstein himself also fails to offer his creation any support by:

  • rejecting it almost as soon as he brings it to life
  • making no attempt whatever to try to understand or empathise with the creature's situation.

He thus creates something that is neither fully human nor a properly evolved new species, and which is inevitably without any understanding of its origins or its relationship to other creatures.

Science and Victor Frankenstein's personality

Frankenstein's belief that he can create life without any negative consequences is the outcome of his increasingly self-absorbed personality:

  • as the novel goes on, Victor focuses all his feelings into his work and becomes cut off from the natural sources of love and support
  • his brief sojourns in the natural world revive his spirits and restore his health to some degree, but he makes no organic connection between his use of nature for refreshment and a respect for natural processes in his scientific work
  • in his obsessive desire to acquire knowledge and use it in pursuit of his own essentially egotistical ends, he becomes himself unnatural, even losing contact with his family and friends. His scientific work pushes aside and replaces normal familial and sexual relationships.

The monster eventually destroys everybody close to Frankenstein: William, Justine, Clerval, Elizabeth and his father. This list of deaths of innocent, loving individuals is in itself one of the novel's greatest condemnations of the regressive and destructive nature of Victor's life as a scientist.

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