Title

Science
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Influences on Frankenstein

  • Medieval books – Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus
  • Experience at 15 – lightning
  • University professors: Krempe and Waldman

Creating a Monster

  • In the novel Shelley shows us a scientist who creates a monster he cannot control – linked to the most recent scientific developments of her day – context
  • She gave us a new literary genre – science fiction
  • ‘Good’ Science (noble purposes, for the benefit of mankind) V ‘Bad’ Science (arrogant manipulation of nature to serve your own ends)

Science - Context

  • Shelley bases the novel on the works of the 3 most famous scientists of the late 18th and early 19th century:
    • Humphrey Davy
    • Erasmus Darwin
    • Luigi Galvani
  • Shelley can be seen to be celebrating scientific research which accurately describes how the physical universe works – as she associates with Darwin
  • Darwin – an evolutionist not a creationist. Evolution. Frankenstein wants to changes life through chemical means and is not willing to wait for the slow processes of evolution

Science - Dangers

  • Shelley is drawing our attention to the dangers of attempting to control or change the universe through human intervention – seen in the work of Davy and Galvani
  • Victor’s Scientific Interests
  • Victor decided to work within the newly established field of chemical physiology
  • Therefore needs to know about recent experiments in biology/ chemistry/mechanics/physics/medicineWaldman tells Victor to ‘apply to every branch of natural philosophy, including mathematics’

Victor at 15

  • He sees a tree destroyed by lightning and becomes interested in electricity
  • This forces him to acknowledge that the ideas of Agrippa, Paracelsus and Magnus are no longer worthwhile (see chapter 2, pages 42 and 43)

Victor at University

  • Goes to University of Ingolstadt
  • Enrols in Chemistry and Natural Philosophy
  • Is inspired by Waldman
  • Waldman’s and Victor’s concept of nature and the use of chemistry is based upon Humphrey Davy’s famous introductory lecture in 1802. It has been assumed that Shelley read Davy’s pamphlet in which this lecture was published just before she wrote ‘Frankenstein’

Davy and Frankenstein

  • Victor can be seen to be like Davy. In his pamphlet Davy distinguishes between the master-scientist who seeks to interfere with and control nature and to modify nature’s creations and a scholar-scientist who only wanted to understand
  • Davy didn’t see that there was a danger with a master-scientist – unlike Shelley

The Isolated Scientist

  • In the novel Shelley gives us an image of the alienated scientist working in isolation, cut off physically and emotionally from family, friends and society
  • Victor’s scientific research does not bring him any physical or emotional pleasure, it even leaves him disgusted with science as a whole

Erasmus Darwin and Frankenstein

  • Victor creates a new species by using solitary paternal propagation for sexual reproduction (i.e. one man, no woman involved)
  • Therefore he is reversing the evolutionary ladder described by Darwin
  • By doing this Victor is engaging in a notion of science that Shelley disapproves of – science manipulates and controls – not describes, understands or reveres nature
  • He gave Shelley a powerful example of what she saw as being ‘good’ science.
  • This was a careful observation and celebration of nature with no attempt to radically change how nature works or the institutions of society

Rejection of the Creature

  • Shelley shows that by having a child without a woman, Victor has failed to give his child nurturing and mothering  - this was what Darwin equated with the female sex
  • Victor is horrified at his new creation and rejects him; yet even if he was able to provide a mother’s care, could he have prevented his creature’s misery and ostracism? Darwin would say no

Frankenstein and Electricity

  • Percy Shelley was interested in electricity and undertook his own experiments
  • Luigi Galvani – animal tissue contained a vital force ‘animal electricity’
  • He saw this electricity as being different from natural electricity (lightening) and artificial electricity (static)
  • Did experiments with animals and humans and he applied galvanic electricity to the corpse of Thomas Forster on 17th Jan 1833
  • These experiments and others were reported widely in the press and were probably discussed in the Shelley and Godwin houses

Frankenstein and Galvanism

  • In the 1831 edition of the novel Shelley explicitly associated electricity with galvanism
  • In the preface she linked the attempt to give life to dead matter with galvanism
  • Shelley based Victor’s attempt to create a new species from dead organic matter through the use of chemistry and electricity on the most advanced scientific research of the early 19th century
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