As the first science fiction novel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein highlights the genre’s nuances: fiction based on imagined or future scientific and technological advancements.  Through this “new” genre, Shelley was able to remark on science, technology, and the human condition.  For example, Shelley uses the scientific advancements of her time to not only “realistically” bring to life Frankenstein’s creature but also to comment on such advancements. She then uses a distinct way of narrating the story to include more about her character’s intentions as they figure out the purpose of one’s life, which is part of the human condition.

Regarding science and technology, Shelley was not completely unaware of what was happening in the scientific field around her as her father cultivated an unimpeded learning environment for her and her siblings (Buzwell).  Not only was she allowed free reign over her studies, but she also continued these studies after marrying Percy Shelley by listening and participating in philosophical discussions.  It was through such discussions that she was probably made aware of Luigi Galvani’s use of electricity as the “spark of life” (Professor Lijing).  Whether or not Mary Shelley herself believed in the possibility of electricity reanimating a corpse, it is possible she did foresee future applications of electricity in the medical field.  Furthermore, by including that “…the principles of Agrippa had been entirely exploded, and that a modern system of science had been introduced, which possessed much greater power than the ancient, because the powers of the latter were chimerical, while those of the former real and practical;” (39) she indicates her knowledge of the progression of ideas within the scientific field.  Whether she wanted to make bold claims about the animation of non-living matter it is not certain; it is however certain that she built on the scientific advancements of her time for her story.

Another strong message included is that of the search for one’s purpose by her characters: “…for nothing contributes so much to tranquillise the mind as a steady purpose” (16) from Walton, “I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit” (54) from Victor Frankenstein, and “Who was I?  What was I?  Whence did I come?  What was my destination?” (128) from Frankenstein’s creature.  All three characters went about finding and fulfilling their purposes through different methods and all had varied effects.  The contrast of different results can be as Shelley’s message towards society regarding the choices they should or should not make when striving to fulfill their life’s purpose.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein uses science and technology to drive a story about the pursuit of one’s destiny, not only to comment on ever-evolving knowledge but also man’s use of that knowledge.

Sources:

Buzwell, Greg. “Mary Shelley, Frankenstein and the Villa Diodati.” The British Library, The British Library, 15 May 2014, www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/mary-shelley-frankenstein-and-the-villa-diodati.

Professor Lijing Jiang, “Frankenstein” (lecture), Colby College, Waterville, Maine, September 24, 2018.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. Edited by M. K. Joseph, Oxford University Press, 1980.