Chapter I.

Chapter I.
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Contributors (1)
Published
Jun 17, 2019

Chapter I.

I am by birth a Genevese; and my family is one of the most distinguished of that republic. My ancestors had been for many years counsellors and syndics; and my father had filled several public situations with honour and reputation. He was respected by all who knew him for his integrity and indefatigable attention to public business. He passed his younger days perpetually occupied by the affairs of his country; and it was not until the decline of life that he thought of marrying, and bestowing on the state sons who might carry his virtues and his name down to posterity.

As the circumstances of his marriage illustrate his character, I cannot refrain from relating them. One of his most intimate friends was a merchant, who, from a flourishing state, fell, through numerous mischances, into poverty. This man, whose name was Beaufort, was of a proud and unbending disposition, and could not bear to live in poverty and oblivion in the same country where he had formerly been distinguished for his rank and magnificence. Having paid his debts, therefore, in the most honourable manner, he retreated with his daughter to the town of Lucerne, where he lived unknown and in wretchedness. My father loved Beaufort with the truest friendship, and was deeply grieved by his retreat in these unfortunate circumstances. He grieved also for the loss of his society, and resolved to seek him out and endeavour to persuade him to begin the world again through his credit and assistance.

Beaufort had taken effectual measures to conceal himself; and it was ten months before my father discovered his abode. Overjoyed at this discovery, he hastened to the house, which was situated in a mean street, near the Reuss. But when he entered, misery and despair alone welcomed him. Beaufort had saved but a very small sum of money from the wreck of his fortunes; but it was sufficient to provide him with sustenance for some months, and in the mean time he hoped to procure some respectable employment in a merchant’s house. The interval was consequently spent in inaction; his grief only became more deep and rankling, when he had leisure for reflection; and at length it took so fast hold of his mind, that at the end of three months he lay on a bed of sickness, incapable of any exertion.

His daughter attended him with the greatest tenderness; but she saw with despair that their little fund was rapidly decreasing, and that there was no other prospect of support. But Caroline Beaufort possessed a mind of an uncommon mould; and her courage rose to support her in her adversity. She procured plain work; she plaited straw; and by various means contrived to earn a pittance scarcely sufficient to support life.

Several months passed in this manner. Her father grew worse; her time was more entirely occupied in attending him; her means of subsistence decreased; and in the tenth month her father died in her arms, leaving her an orphan and a beggar. This last blow overcame her; and she knelt by Beaufort’s coffin, weeping bitterly, when my father entered the chamber. He came like a protecting spirit to the poor girl, who committed herself to his care, and after the interment of his friend he conducted her to Geneva, and placed her under the protection of a relation. Two years after this event Caroline became his wife.

When my father became a husband and a parent, he found his time so occupied by the duties of his new situation, that he relinquished many of his public employments, and devoted himself to the education of his children. Of these I was the eldest, and the destined successor to all his labours and utility. No creature could have more tender parents than mine. My improvement and health were their constant care, especially as I remained for several years their only child. But before I continue my narrative, I must record an incident which took place when I was four years of age.

My father had a sister, whom he tenderly loved, and who had married early in life an Italian gentleman. Soon after her marriage, she had accompanied her husband into his native country, and for some years my father had very little communication with her. About the time I mentioned she died; and a few months afterwards he received a letter from her husband, acquainting him with his intention of marrying an Italian lady, and requesting my father to take charge of the infant Elizabeth, the only child of his deceased sister. “It is my wish,” he said, “that you should consider her as your own daughter, and educate her thus. Her mother’s fortune is secured to her, the documents of which I will commit to your keeping. Reflect upon this proposition; and decide whether you would prefer educating your niece yourself to her being brought up by a stepmother.”

My father did not hesitate, and immediately went to Italy, that he might accompany the little Elizabeth to her future home. I have often heard my mother say, that she was at that time the most beautiful child she had ever seen, and shewed signs even then of a gentle and affectionate disposition. These indications, and a desire to bind as closely as possible the ties of domestic love, determined my mother to consider Elizabeth as my future wife; a design which she never found reason to repent.

From this time Elizabeth Lavenza became my playfellow, and, as we grew older, my friend. She was docile and good tempered, yet gay and playful as a summer insect. Although she was lively and animated, her feelings were strong and deep, and her disposition uncommonly affectionate. No one could better enjoy liberty, yet no one could submit with more grace than she did to constraint and caprice. Her imagination was luxuriant, yet her capability of application was great. Her person was the image of her mind; her hazel eyes, although as lively as a bird’s, possessed an attractive softness. Her figure was light and airy; and, though capable of enduring great fatigue, she appeared the most fragile creature in the world. While I admired her understanding and fancy, I loved to tend on her, as I should on a favourite animal; and I never saw so much grace both of person and mind united to so little pretension.

Every one adored Elizabeth. If the servants had any request to make, it was always through her intercession. We were strangers to any species of disunion and dispute; for although there was a great dissimilitude in our characters, there was an harmony in that very dissimilitude. I was more calm and philosophical than my companion; yet my temper was not so yielding. My application was of longer endurance; but it was not so severe whilst it endured. I delighted in investigating the facts relative to the actual world; she busied herself in following the aërial creations of the poets. The world was to me a secret, which I desired to discover; to her it was a vacancy, which she sought to people with imaginations of her own.

My brothers were considerably younger than myself; but I had a friend in one of my schoolfellows, who compensated for this deficiency. Henry Clerval was the son of a merchant of Geneva, an intimate friend of my father. He was a boy of singular talent and fancy. I remember, when he was nine years old, he wrote a fairy tale, which was the delight and amazement of all his companions. His favourite study consisted in books of chivalry and romance; and when very young, I can remember, that we used to act plays composed by him out of these favourite books, the principal characters of which were Orlando, Robin Hood, Amadis, and St. George.

No youth could have passed more happily than mine. My parents were indulgent, and my companions amiable. Our studies were never forced; and by some means we always had an end placed in view, which excited us to ardour in the prosecution of them. It was by this method, and not by emulation, that we were urged to application. Elizabeth was not incited to apply herself to drawing, that her companions might not outstrip her; but through the desire of pleasing her aunt, by the representation of some favourite scene done by her own hand. We learned Latin and English, that we might read the writings in those languages; and so far from study being made odious to us through punishment, we loved application, and our amusements would have been the labours of other children. Perhaps we did not read so many books, or learn languages so quickly, as those who are disciplined according to the ordinary methods; but what we learned was impressed the more deeply on our memories.

In this description of our domestic circle I include Henry Clerval; for he was constantly with us. He went to school with me, and generally passed the afternoon at our house; for being an only child, and destitute of companions at home, his father was well pleased that he should find associates at our house; and we were never completely happy when Clerval was absent.

I feel pleasure in dwelling on the recollections of childhood, before misfortune had tainted my mind, and changed its bright visions of extensive usefulness into gloomy and narrow reflections upon self. But, in drawing the picture of my early days, I must not omit to record those events which led, by insensible steps to my after tale of misery: for when I would account to myself for the birth of that passion, which afterwards ruled my destiny, I find it arise, like a mountain river, from ignoble and almost forgotten sources; but, swelling as it proceeded, it became the torrent which, in its course, has swept away all my hopes and joys.

Natural philosophy is the genius that has regulated my fate; I desire therefore, in this narration, to state those facts which led to my predilection for that science. When I was thirteen years of age, we all went on a party of pleasure to the baths near Thonon: the inclemency of the weather obliged us to remain a day confined to the inn. In this house I chanced to find a volume of the works of Cornelius Agrippa. I opened it with apathy; the theory which he attempts to demonstrate, and the wonderful facts which he relates, soon changed this feeling into enthusiasm. A new light seemed to dawn upon my mind; and, bounding with joy, I communicated my discovery to my father. I cannot help remarking here the many opportunities instructors possess of directing the attention of their pupils to useful knowledge, which they utterly neglect. My father looked carelessly at the title-page of my book, and said, “Ah! Cornelius Agrippa! My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash.”

If, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains to explain to me, that the principles of Agrippa had been entirely exploded, and that a modern system of science had been introduced, which possessed much greater powers than the ancient, because the powers of the latter were chimerical, while those of the former were real and practical; under such circumstances, I should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside, and, with my imagination warmed as it was, should probably have applied myself to the more rational theory of chemistry which has resulted from modern discoveries. It is even possible, that the train of my ideas would never have received the fatal impulse that led to my ruin. But the cursory glance my father had taken of my volume by no means assured me that he was acquainted with its contents; and I continued to read with the greatest avidity.

When I returned home, my first care was to procure the whole works of this author, and afterwards of Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus. I read and studied the wild fancies of these writers with delight; they appeared to me treasures known to few beside myself; and although I often wished to communicate these secret stores of knowledge to my father, yet his indefinite censure of my favourite Agrippa always withheld me. I disclosed my discoveries to Elizabeth, therefore, under a promise of strict secrecy; but she did not interest herself in the subject, and I was left by her to pursue my studies alone.

It may appear very strange, that a disciple of Albertus Magnus should arise in the eighteenth century; but our family was not scientifical, and I had not attended any of the lectures given at the schools of Geneva. My dreams were therefore undisturbed by reality; and I entered with the greatest diligence into the search of the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life. But the latter obtained my most undivided attention: wealth was an inferior object; but what glory would attend the discovery, if I could banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death!

Nor were these my only visions. The raising of ghosts or devils was a promise liberally accorded by my favourite authors, the fulfilment of which I most eagerly sought; and if my incantations were always unsuccessful, I attributed the failure rather to my own inexperience and mistake, than to a want of skill or fidelity in my instructors.

The natural phænomena that take place every day before our eyes did not escape my examinations. Distillation, and the wonderful effects of steam, processes of which my favourite authors were utterly ignorant, excited my astonishment; but my utmost wonder was engaged by some experiments on an air-pump, which I saw employed by a gentleman whom we were in the habit of visiting.

The ignorance of the early philosophers on these and several other points served to decrease their credit with me: but I could not entirely throw them aside, before some other system should occupy their place in my mind.

When I was about fifteen years old, we had retired to our house near Belrive, when we witnessed a most violent and terrible thunder-storm. It advanced from behind the mountains of Jura; and the thunder burst at once with frightful loudness from various quarters of the heavens. I remained, while the storm lasted, watching its progress with curiosity and delight. As I stood at the door, on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak, which stood about twenty yards from our house; and so soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump. When we visited it the next morning, we found the tree shattered in a singular manner. It was not splintered by the shock, but entirely reduced to thin ribbands of wood. I never beheld any thing so utterly destroyed.

The catastrophe of this tree excited my extreme astonishment; and I eagerly inquired of my father the nature and origin of thunder and lightning. He replied, “Electricity”; describing at the same time the various effects of that power. He constructed a small electrical machine, and exhibited a few experiments; he made also a kite, with a wire and string, which drew down that fluid from the clouds.

This last stroke completed the overthrow of Cornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, and Paracelsus, who had so long reigned the lords of my imagination. But by some fatality I did not feel inclined to commence the study of any modern system; and this disinclination was influenced by the following circumstance.

My father expressed a wish that I should attend a course of lectures upon natural philosophy, to which I cheerfully consented. Some accident prevented my attending these lectures until the course was nearly finished. The lecture, being therefore one of the last, was entirely incomprehensible to me. The professor discoursed with the greatest fluency of potassium and boron, of sulphates and oxyds, terms to which I could affix no idea; and I became disgusted with the science of natural philosophy, although I still read Pliny and Buffon with delight, authors, in my estimation, of nearly equal interest and utility.

My occupations at this age were principally the mathematics, and most of the branches of study appertaining to that science. I was busily employed in learning languages; Latin was already familiar to me, and I began to read some of the easiest Greek authors without the help of a lexicon. I also perfectly understood English and German. This is the list of my accomplishments at the age of seventeen; and you may conceive that my hours were fully employed in acquiring and maintaining a knowledge of this various literature.

Another task also devolved upon me, when I became the instructor of my brothers. Ernest was six years younger than myself, and was my principal pupil. He had been afflicted with ill health from his infancy, through which Elizabeth and I had been his constant nurses: his disposition was gentle, but he was incapable of cany severe application. William, the youngest of our family, was yet an infant, and the most beautiful little fellow in the world; his lively blue eyes, dimpled cheeks, and endearing manners, inspired the tenderest affection.

Such was our domestic circle, from which care and pain seemed for ever banished. My father directed our studies, and my mother partook of our enjoyments. Neither of us possessed the slightest pre-eminence over the other; the voice of command was never heard amongst us; but mutual affection engaged us all to comply with and obey the slightest desire of each other.

Discussions

Labels
Health & MedicineMary Shelley
Joey Eschrich: Mary’s mother was the renowned philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft. Tragically, Wollstonecraft died on September 10, 1797, just 11 days after giving birth to Mary, of puerperal fever, a malady common after childbirth in the eighteenth century. Wollstonecraft was an immense influence on Mary and her young-adult intellectual circle (Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and others); Mary grew up revering and striving to emulate her beloved intellectual titan of a mother. In this passage, Victor recounts how his cousin and eventual spouse Elizabeth Lavenza came into his life as a child. Unlike Elizabeth, who is adopted by her uncle’s family, Mary was raised by her father William Godwin and a stepmother, Mary Jane Clairmont, with whom she had a conflictual and troubled relationship.   
Influences & AdaptationsScience
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Robert Oppenheimer: Here, Mary plays with archetypes of scientists and poets, scrambling references and blurring the lines between these pursuits. For example, Walton is an amateur poet on a scientific voyage, while Victor was Percy Shelley’s pen name in his first published poetry. Mary’s scientists and poets share a love of nature, though they express it in different ways—one theorizes about truth, the other rhapsodizes about beauty. While both require a passionate, curious mind observing nature, the scientist tries to understand how it works and the poet tries to communicate how it feels.Perhaps Mary used these archetypes to represent the ironies of the imagination. We know Mary’s reading list included Francis Bacon, who wrote in his Novum Organum (1620), “The present discoveries in science … lie immediately beneath the surface of common notions. It is necessary, however, to penetrate the more secret and remote parts of nature.” The imagination produces tantalizing false meanings and delusions, but at the same time, enormous feats of imagination are required to think outside existing belief systems. Mary would also have read and reviewed the poems Percy wrote during the European tour when she conceived Frankenstein, including “Mont Blanc,” where he writes, “What were thou [Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in the Alps], and earth, and stars, and sea, / If to the human mind's imaginings / Silence and solitude were vacancy?” In “Mont Blanc,” Percy describes how human fancies lack the reality and beauty of nature, yet in the same poem he argues that nature is meaningless without the human imagination. Our relationship with our imagination is one of many metaphors in the relationship between Victor and his creation—we create the thing that enslaves us and drives us onward.
Mary ShelleyPhilosophy & Politics
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Emily Zarka: The gratitude expressed by Victor here reflects Mary’s own respect and appreciation for her father William Godwin’s dedication to her education. As an author, political journalist, and reformer, it comes as little surprise that Godwin supported Mary’s informal education, encouraging the development of her reading and writing abilities and paying for a governess. He also frequently hosted noted scholars and writers of the period in their home, and served as her tutor for a variety of subjects. Godwin’s devotion to fostering Mary’s schooling was also influenced by the thinking of his late wife, Mary’s mother Mary Wollstonecraft. Although Godwin admitted he was not following the philosophies presented in Wollstonecraft’s Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787) and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), the attention Mary’s schooling received was, like her mother’s ideas about women’s education, radical for the time. Godwin withdrew his support when Mary eloped with Percy Shelley in 1814. However, Mary’s decision to dedicate the culmination of her youthful intellectual prowess, Frankenstein, to her father significantly improved their relationship. The modern-day inclusion of Frankenstein in countless curriculums (the book is the most-assigned novel in university courses, according to the Open Syllabus Project) continues the family’s educational legacy.
Health & MedicineScienceTechnology
Frankenbook Editor: “In stark scientific terms, we know that a species with more genetic diversity is more likely to survive, because it can adapt more easily to an environment that’s constantly changing. But putting aside biology, we might still wish to create societies with more diversity and not less.“The technology of genome editing has enormous potential to relieve suffering, and it may be that in some cases, we will decide that it is justified to remove certain mutations altogether. But as we face those decisions, we must keep in mind how hazy the line can be between benefit and detriment, disease and natural variation. In the words of Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, ‘even self-improvement can be dangerous. You never know which defect holds up the whole building.’”Want to learn more about genetic engineering, diversity, and the unexpected trickiness of the question “what is a genetic flaw”? Read the complete essay by Jackie Grimm, PhD candidate in the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University.
Motivations & Sentiments
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JJ LaTourelle: The young, rebellious, intelligent, and ambitious Victor is motivated by the search for glory and public renown. He wants to make a name for himself. He wants not just to be successful but to be brilliantly, notoriously successful. And he seeks that glorious reputation through modern natural philosophy, what we now call experimental science, the “genius that … regulate[s his] fate”. Victor’s stated goal, to create a kind of immortality, is just the kind of thing that could bring him the renown he desperately seeks.
Science
David H Guston: Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707–1788), was a French naturalist whose multivolume work Histoire naturelle (Natural history) echoed Pliny the Elder’s. In a century in which natural historians were still attempting to understand whether and how species changed, Buffon proposed a theory that New World species, including humans, were degenerate compared to Old World species. His theory led to a heated correspondence with Thomas Jefferson, who sent samples of robust North American wildlife—including a stuffed moose—across the Atlantic to him.
Science
David H Guston: Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE) was a Roman naturalist and natural philosopher who published the encyclopedic text Naturalis historia (Natural history). He died in the explosion of Mount Vesuvius while attempting to help friends escape.
Mary ShelleyPhilosophy & PoliticsScienceTechnology
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Dehlia Hannah: Dramatic encounters with natural phenomena are inspirations for scientific as well as literary imagination. This passage reconstructs the way that the philosopher Francis Bacon (1561–1626) thought that scientists come to understand natural phenomena and, in turn, use their understanding to construct technologies that make use of the same underlying processes. In describing how Victor’s father translates the mechanisms of thunder and lightning into various technologies—a small electrical machine (perhaps a galvanic pile and Leyden jar) and a kite that attracts and conducts electricity (after Benjamin Franklin’s experiment), both of which were part of Percy Shelley’s education—the passage foreshadows Victor’s eventual use of electricity to animate the creature he creates. The sense of wonder the narrator describes at witnessing the storm is important: delight, curiosity, awe, and other emotions motivate scientific inquiry by captivating the imagination and emotions. Mary likely shared some of her protagonist’s emotions as she endured the relentless rains and thunderstorms that plagued Geneva in the summer of 1816.
Equity & InclusionPhilosophy & Politics
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Sara Brownell: Accepting the failure to learn as the student’s responsibility can be described as a student-deficit model of instruction, where any gap in learning is the student’s fault and instructors are presumed to be faultless in their teaching. This perspective also represents an instructor-centered approach to teaching, where it is the student’s responsibility to listen to and learn from the instructor. It stands in stark contrast to how many view education today as a constructivist activity that should be student centered, where students are creating their own learning.
Science
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Allison Kavey: Cornelius Agrippa remains among the most intellectually compelling magical theologians and natural philosophers of his time. His magnum opus, De occulta philosophia libri tres (Three books of occult philosophy), occupied the majority of his life, starting with a juvenile manuscript dedicated to his teacher, Abbot Trithemius of Sponheim; it began to circulate in 1509–1510 and had a first printed edition in 1531 and a final edited edition in 1533. The book attained wide print circulation, appearing in German, Latin, and French editions before 1535 as well as in reprints and in English throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Agrippa’s reputation as a dark magician also grew, despite the lack of evidence to support it, and a fourth book spuriously attributed to him was in fact a book of dark magic, appearing in English in the seventeenth century and outselling the original work through the nineteenth century.It is not clear whether Victor Frankenstein read De occulta philosophia, but his appreciation for the “theory he [Agrippa] attempts to demonstrate” (here) suggests he might have encountered the magical cosmology it contained. Agrippa embeds magic in the Creation, contending that God placed magic in the world as a system of connections, sympathies, and antipathies by which adepts could transcend the natural sphere and influence the superior realms. Although De occulta philosophia clearly engages with Neoplatonic philosophy and sees a clear path by which the study of God’s work improves the adept, it is unique in that Agrippa also includes the possibility for the living adept to transcend the natural sphere through magical work and to re-enter the godhead. Through the spiritual improvement (requiring the adept to shed human desires and ambitions) required to attain such magical skills, Agrippa believes the adept would use his magical skills to continue the world order conceived by God—perhaps seeing the adept as an important source of defense in the case of an apocalypse. It is not clear, however, what would happen if a disciplined but evil adept achieved the godhead—perhaps he could derail the order of the world. At any rate, Victor’s sense that he can equal God might have come from this text because he read it outside the context of Renaissance theology and without understanding the tremendous discipline required of a magical adept. His creature serves as an object lesson about the threats posed by undisciplined, ambition-fueled, and ego-driven science. It does not operate as a corrective to the problems of Renaissance natural philosophy solved by modern science but instead serves as evidence for the importance of the increasingly common peer-reviewed and institutionally defined investigations that came to be known as science in the early nineteenth century.
Equity & InclusionPhilosophy & Politics
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Sara Brownell: This passage implies that formal education is superior to being self-educated. Further, there is a sentiment that formal schooling can ground someone in truth and that a person trying to learn on his or her own may not be able to separate fiction from fact because he or she hasn’t been taught what is right by someone else. This is a particularly interesting way to view schooling because all schooling is biased in some way: by the curriculum developed, by the instructor’s views on that curriculum, and even by what questions the instructor entertains in the classroom. There is an assumed unbiased truth associated with formal schooling, but this assumption is flawed.
Science
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Joel A Klein: Many European alchemists in the Middle Ages and Renaissance believed that it was possible to produce an “elixir” or medicine that could prolong life or even heal all diseases. Some, including Cornelius Agrippa (Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, 1486–1535), associated such elixirs or medicines with the philosopher’s stone: a substance of alchemical legend that could turn metals such as lead into gold. The medieval theologian Albertus Magnus (c. 1200–1280) did not officially support such views, but a text called the Little Book on Alchemy that falsely purported—but was widely believed—to be by Albertus did. The texts whose ideas on alchemy and life were most influential, however, were attributed to—although likely not penned by—the Renaissance physician and iconoclast Paracelsus (1493–1541). In one of these, a work titled On the Nature of Things, the author describes the artificial creation of a little human called a “homunculus” in a process vaguely similar to Victor’s animation of “lifeless matter” (here and here). Heating a sealed flask containing putrefying semen would produce a human form after forty days, and the fully formed homunculus—which would have marvelous powers and knowledge—would be complete after forty weeks of feeding with a preparation of human blood.
Influences & AdaptationsScience
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Joel A Klein: Alchemy has roots in the ancient world, although the word itself comes from Arabic. It was concerned primarily with the transformation of materials, notably the transmutation of base metals such as lead and tin into gold and silver. Much historical alchemy can usefully be conceived as protochemistry and included such practices as metallurgy and the making of dyes and imitation gems. Alchemy also had a strong connection with medicine, and for some in the Renaissance it came to be associated with astrology, mysticism, and even magic. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, alchemy was increasingly viewed as a pseudoscience and the domain of charlatans. Both Victor’s father and Professor Krempe reflect this view and strongly distinguish between the modern science of chemistry and irrational, premodern alchemy.
Influences & AdaptationsMary ShelleyScience
David H Guston: Natural philosophy and natural philosopher were broadly encompassing terms for the theoretical and empirical inquiry into the natural world and those who conducted such inquiries. The latter was used prior to the rise of the term scientist, which was not coined until 1834, although Mary does use the word scientifical: “our family was not scientifical,” says Victor in describing the Frankensteins (here A biography of Humphry Davy (Golinksi 2016, 1) that focuses on how Davy, who was acquainted with Mary’s father William Godwin and whose work was read by Mary, became “a scientist before there was such a thing,” uses quotations from Mary’s novel as the epigraphs to each chapter, as if to suggest that Davy’s difficulty in forging a scientific career is associated with and can be communicated by Mary’s portrayal of Victor’s similar difficulties.
Philosophy & Politics
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Braden Allenby: This passage is about perceived momentum: the past reconstructed from the viewpoint of the present always appears to have a structure, a momentum, and an obvious path. It is this deep misconception in part that leads to optimism regarding the ability to predict the future and to manipulate the present in such a way as to achieve desired future states. But the challenges of technology and governance in an increasingly complex world mean that such optimism is both hubristic and dysfunctional. It is hubristic because it dramatically overestimates the ability of anyone, technologist or policy maker, to predict future paths of sociotechnological systems, and it is dysfunctional because it leads to becoming lost in a haze of whimsical fantasy rather than to putting effort into the difficult and constantly changing challenge of dealing ethically, responsibly, and rationally with an ever-morphing, fundamentally unpredictable, real world. You can reach back and claim there is a clear stream from your deep past to your present situation, but what you are really doing is building an entirely normative reconstruction, an arbitrary and partial one at best.
Mary ShelleyMotivations & Sentiments
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Mary Margaret Fonow: The setting for the story is Geneva, Switzerland, one of the oldest major capitals of Europe, and Victor is from one of its noblest families. He uses his scientific training to create a new life but then fails to take responsibility for loving and caring for that life. He is shocked and disgusted when his creation doesn’t turn out as he planned. Yet he is also mostly unaware that his failure to take care of his creation in turn has created the creature he fears and rejects. Mary and her family traveled in more liberal and even radical circles, and she abhorred and flaunted the conventional mores of high society. In Frankenstein, is she calling attention to the propensity of those at the top to ignore the consequences of their actions? Social status cannot fully protect individuals from unintended consequences. Scientists and engineers who are often at the highest ranks of the academy need to be more mindful of the unintended consequences of their discoveries.