Victor Frankenstein’s creation and his process of assembling the “monster” seems to be a step further into the fears of science. The fear in Shelley’s novel is obvious: it is the fear of a corruption of nature and a fear of man’s creation turning against its creator. When comparing the science of Frankenstein to the science of, say, steampower or the train, there are other differences between the, I suppose, “ethics” of each field and process (I chose ethic since no other word came to mind). Overall, the art of science of Frankenstein certainly becomes a new sort of creation, one still popularly explored by many genres today.

In Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein embarks in his process of the ultimate form of creation: the creation of life. While some might call Frankenstein’s choice to leave out the particulars of the process by which he accomplishes this a cop-out on Shelley’s part, it only lends itself further into the fear of what he has done. At first the scientific mind of Victor is only concerned in the success of is experiment, he thinks nothing of the potential consequences other than the victory he mind claim in the name of science. It isn’t until the dead thing is actually given life, motion, and basic human traits that horror truly sinks in for Frankenstein. Thinking about this, it’s something like the sense of wonder that people might feel today when seeing robots fashioned after humans.

The Japanese android known as ACTROID.

For some reason, there is a seemingly inherit fear in seeing something non-human have human traits. While I don’t want to flood this post with links and images, here’s a clip of an android in action:Acrtroid speaks and moves!

Perhaps, though, I’m making ACTROID out to be too much of a monster, like Frankenstein’s creation, and we might not feel a tinge of fear but rather a deep sense of a wonder since it appears more human than the monstrous creation of Victor.

Throughout the novel we also see Victor constantly regretting what he has created and wishing there were someway he could take it back (he also fully takes on the emotional responsibility of all the deaths associated with his monster). While those who might take credit for the train or the steamboat might feel quite the opposite, there is still a social criticism on them for those who disagree with what they’re doing. As in the poems by Wordsworth and Whitman, they feel that they’re contributing to the destruction of nature. In Frankenstein’s case, while there isn’t as broad as a social criticism of him and his creation, there is a personal one, which might even bring religion into play.

Frankenstein has committed an act against the natural order of things by creating life. Indeed there is the process of procreation (baby-making) but all aspects of that are natural (and yes, I am blatantly ignoring artificial insemination). Frankenstein has committed what can be interpreted as the ultimate act against nature as well as religion. In some film interpretations of the text, the feeling of god-like power is almost exaggerated in Frankenstein. In the Mel Brooks version (I link this video for three reasons: 1) only one I could find 2) not a comedic moment 3) the movie is hilarious) Gene Wilder expresses this sentiment very well. The sacrilegious nature of Frankenstein’s actions are not left up to debate as the man behind the steam engine might have been, but are seemingly absolute.

Another text that comes to mind when discussing the use of science to create a sort of perversion of life is one by a favorite author of mine, HP Lovecraft. The short story is titled Herbert West: Reanimator.

In the Holmes’s excerpt, he writes, “The notion of an infinite, mysterious Nature, waiting to be discovered or seduced into revealing all her secrets, was widely held.” Indeed, Frankenstein can be seen as a rational scientist. However, all aspects of science stems from the use of nature in attempting to understand or reshape it. Therefore, Victor has not only seduced Nature, but replicated its process of creating life. He has reduced the process from insemination, birth, and maturing to simply putting a subject together on a slab. Later he writes, “These doubts…favored a softer ‘dynamic’ science of invisible powers…of growth and organic change.” There is indeed the sense of “invisible powers” in Shelley’s text, at the very least in the sense that the process of creating his monster is never told to us.

The Influence of Clockwork and Steam Engines

Félix de Temple de la Croix's Monoplane

Just to provide some background on the image above, it belongs to French naval officer,  Félix de Temple de la Croix who designed the model in 1874. He had various other designs and is “depending on the definition”, accredited with the first powered aircraft flight, though some describe his flight as a “hop” and then a glide more than anything else. It is interesting to note that before actually testing anything, de la Croix constructed a model first which successfully flew and was made of a clockwork engine but when he built the full-sized monoplane he incorporated a steam engine instead.

Looking at the image without any history however, and having the knowledge of today, there is a great resemblance to the propeller-adorned aircraft we can imagine being flown during World War I. To anyone during this time it must have been an extremely exciting moment to think of the wonders which metal gears and boiled water could produce. The sketch itself is very reminiscent of a Da Vinci drawing and once again seems to remind us of the imagination of the human mind. While Du Temple did not exactly achieve a long-term and sustained flight, he gave way toward the adaptation of steam powered engines. According to the wikipedia article, Du Temple’s engine design later led to the flash boiler used in early French torpedo boats.

The social significance of clockwork and/or steam powered engines has always been a wonder to the human mind. From such seemingly outrageous designs such as the monoplane or the modern drawings of Jules Vernes’ Nautilus by Jean-Pierre Bouvet. An example is shown below and more of his detailed sketches can be seen here.

An example of Bouvet's Nautilus drawings.

Technology and its progression always seems to be the contention that it occurs in steps. That the steam engine had to exist before the invention of anything else, and we can take it back toward the notion that things like the wheel and fire essentially led to most other inventions.

The inventive attitude and imaginative depths of clockwork/steam engine possibilities still exist today in the subculture/genre known as steampunk. In this genre the world is only powered through steam engines as its title would imply. If you google search steampunk you’ll find various different fantastical designs which might have very well happened if steam engines had remained the dominant source of powering mechanical technology.  There are even certain people who create and sell steampunk inspired gadgets, some shown below.

A steampunk guitar.

Steampunk version of a Bluetooth and it works too!

Steampunk inspired motorcycle


The “Enlightened” God of Crusoe

(Quote 3)

To say that Crusoe is a hero of the Enlightenment era might be a stretch, but if we take into account the mental processes we witness in his diary keeping as well as how he reasons practically every aspect of his life we can see this blatant connection. Essentially, what Crusoe does is minimalize everything down to how he can use it for his own survival after being stranded on the island (before and after this point however, he mainly saw things only in terms of profit). Crusoe even goes as far as to create his own sort of God, which as the quote from Leopold Damrosch says, resembles Protestant ideology.

Crusoe, through out his initial time on the island does not exhibit much superstition as he is a rational man of Europe. However, there are moments in the text where we do see him turn to something outside of the field of Enlightened man. Some of these moments include when he is on the ship and actually begins to believe that his father’s words have cursed him (though can we really fault him? We all turn to something otherworldly when faced with turmoil, don’t we?). One of the more prominent moments however, when we can truly see Crusoe exiting the mind frame of an Enlightened man is when he turns to the Bible. Of course we may describe various different reasons for this, to stay sane, to keep his mind off of his condition, etc. Still, it appears that he has taken a turn from being the sensible, scientific method thinking kind of man to one devoted to the gospel (by scientific I mean his trial and error of various methods, and even the various lists and sort of charts he provides throughout the text). Surely a man as resourceful as Crusoe wouldn’t need the support of simple words on a page, right?

However, despite all his rationalizations, Crusoe does indeed turn to God but in a very different way than expected. He feels that this island is his punishment and accepts it, all the while begging for mercy from God to release him from the punishment (did I mention he accepted it totally?). Robinson adopts the mentality, without saying it exactly, that through work and toil he’ll atone/be liberated of his punishment and despite his seeking the word of God, the rational/Enlightened side of him still imposes his own view of God. As the quote describes, there is indeed a desacralizing of the world and he disconnects nature as having anything to do with God. Damrosch describes nature for Crusoe as “the workplace where man is expected to labor until it is time to go to a heaven too remote and hypothetical to ask questions about.” While the first part of his explanation of the island of Crusoe is true, it is the second half that really reveals Crusoe’s compromise to Enlightened reasoning. Not once does he consider any of his misfortunes as purely circumstantial or coincidence but keeps falling back to the superstition that surely it is because he did not heed his father’s words of warning.

Despite his occasional slip into superstition and his, however ‘rational’, way of viewing God and the bible, Crusoe still holds on to his rational mind. We can see every step he takes and how everything is broken down into a sort of logic. It is in his journal that we can see, in extremely (occasionally boring) particular detail how he goes about anything from farming to his form of pottery. All of this is recorded in his journal, which we may perhaps see as his own personal sort of bible.

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