Contents Index

Frankenstein: A Feminist Critique of Science (1987)

Anne K. Mellor

In One Culture: Essays in Science and Literature, ed. George Levine and Alan Rauch (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1987), pp. 287-312

[This essay was subsequently reprinted as Chap. 5 of Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fictions, Her Monsters (1988): up to subsection II in this version, with one exception linked as an addendum, differences between the texts are essentially stylistic. Where the texts eventually diverge at subsection II, then, the simplest solution has seemed to be that of representing the 1988 text as a separate, linked entity. Up to that point, for convenient reference to this second version, its page demarcations are given in double curled brackets {{--}}.]

{287} {{89}} From a feminist perspective, the most significant dimension of the relationship between literature and science is the degree to which both enterprises are grounded on the use of metaphor and image. The explanatory models of science, like the plots of literary works, depend on linguistic structures which are shaped by metaphor and metonymy. The feminist reader is perhaps most sensitized to those symbolic structures which employ gender as a major variable or value. When Francis Bacon announced, "I am come in very truth leading to you Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave,"1 he identified the pursuit of modern science with a form of sexual politics: the aggressive, virile male scientist legitimately captures and enslaves a passive, fertile female nature. Mary Shelley was one of the first to comprehend and illustrate the dangers inherent in the use of sexist metaphors in the seventeenth-century scientific revolution.

Mary Shelley grounded her fiction of the scientist who creates a monster he can't control upon an extensive understanding of the most recent scientific developments of her day. More important, she used this knowledge both to analyze and to criticize the more dangerous implications of both the scientific method and its practical results. Implicitly, she contrasted what she considered "good" science -- the detailed and reverent description of the workings of nature -- to "bad" science, the hubristic manipulation of the forces of nature to serve man's private ends. In Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, she illustrated the potential evils of scientific hubris and at the same time challenged any conception of science and the scientific method that rested on a gendered definition of nature as female. Fully to appreciate the {{90}} significance of Mary Shelley's feminist critique of modern science, {288} we must look first at the particular scientific research upon which her novel is based.


The works of three of the most famous scientists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century -- Humphry Davy, Erasmus Darwin, and Luigi Galvani -- together with the teachings of two of their ardent disciples, Adam Walker and Percy Shelley, were crucial to Mary Shelley's understanding of science and the scientific enterprise. While no scientist herself (her description of Victor Frankenstein's laboratory is both vague and naive; apparently Victor does all his experiments in a small attic room by the light of a single candle), Mary Shelley nonetheless had a sound grasp of the concepts and implications of some of the most important scientific work of her day. In her novel, she distinguishes between those scientific researches which attempt to describe accurately the functionings of the physical universe and those which attempt to control or change that universe through human intervention. Implicitly, she celebrates the former, which she associates most closely with the work of Erasmus Darwin, while she calls attention to the dangers inherent in the latter, found in the work of Davy, Galvani, and Walker.

Victor Frankenstein chooses to work within the newly established field of chemical physiology; thus, he must be familiar with recent experiments in the disparate fields of biology, chemistry, mechanics, physics, and medicine. M. Waldman, Victor's chemistry professor at the University of Ingolstadt, observes that "a man would make but a very sorry chemist, if he attended to that department of human knowledge alone," and therefore advises Victor "to apply to every branch of natural philosophy, including mathematics."2

{{91}} Victor and Professor Waldman's concept of the nature and utility of chemistry is based upon Humphry Davy's famous introductory lecture to a course in chemistry given at the newly founded Royal Institution on 21 January 1802.3 Immediately published as A Discourse, Introductory to a Course of Lectures on Chemistry, this pamphlet is probably the work that Mary Shelley read on Monday, 28 October 1816, just before working on her story of Frankenstein.4 Waldman's enthusiasm for and description {289} of the benefits to be derived from the study of chemistry seem to be derived from Davy's remarks, as does Victor Frankenstein's belief that chemistry might discover the secret of life itself.

Davy probably also supplied Mary Shelley's description of the first parts of Professor Waldman's introductory lecture on chemistry -- the opening "recapitulation of the history of chemistry and the various improvements made by different men of learning," followed by "a cursory view of the present state of the sciences," an explanation of several key terms and a few preparatory experiments (F, p. 42) -- which come not so much from Davy's Discourse as from his later textbook, Elements of Chemical Philosophy (London, 1812), which Percy Shelley ordered from Thomas Hookham on 29 July 1812.5 This may be the book listed in Mary's Journal on 29, 30 October, 2 and 4 November 18l6, where Mary notes that she "read Davy's 'Chemistry' with {{92}} Shelley" and then alone. A glance at the table of contents of this book would have given Mary Shelley the outline she attributes to Waldman: a brief history, followed by a discussion of several specific elements and compounds, with descriptions of experiments performed. The contents probably also provided her with the description of the lectures on natural philosophy that Victor Frankenstein attended in Geneva:

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. (F, p. 36)
Davy's Discourse, written to attract and keep a large audience, provided Mary Shelley with both the content and the rhetoric of Waldman's final panegyric on modern chemistry, which directly inspired Victor Frankenstein's subsequent research. Waldman concludes,
The ancient teachers of this science . . . promised impossibilities, and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted, and that the elixir of life is a chimera. But these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature, and shew how she works in her hiding places. They ascend into the heavens; {290} they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows. (F, p. 42)
Davy, in his celebration of the powers of chemistry, asserted that "the phenomena of combustion, of the solution of different substances in water, of the agencies of fire, the production of rain, hail, and snow, and the conversion of dead matter into living matter by vegetable organs, all belong to chemistry."6 Arguing that chemistry is the basis of many other sciences, including mechanics, natural history, mineralogy, astronomy, medicine, physiology, pharmacy, botany, and zoology, Davy insists,
How dependent, in fact, upon chemical processes are the nourishment and growth of organized beings; their various alterations of form, their constant production of new substances; and, finally, their death and decomposition, in which nature seems to take unto herself those {{93}} elements and constituent principles which, for a while, she had lent to a superior agent as the organs and instruments of the spirit of life! (Discourse, no. 8)
After detailing the necessity of chemical knowledge to all the operations of common life, including agriculture, metalworking, bleaching, dyeing, leather tanning, and glass and porcelain making, Davy paints an idealistic portrait of the contemporary chemist, who is informed by a science that
has given to him an acquaintance with the different relations of the parts of the external world; and more than that, it has bestowed upon him powers which may be almost called creative; which have enabled him to modify and change the beings surrounding him, and by his experiments to interrogate nature with power, not simply as a scholar, passive and seeking only to understand her operations, but rather as a master, active with his own instruments. (Discourse no. 16)
Davy then sketches an even more visionary picture of the scientist of the future, who will discover the still unknown general laws of chemistry,
for who would not be ambitious of becoming acquainted with the most profound secrets of nature; of ascertaining her hidden operations; and of exhibiting to men that system of knowledge which relates so intimately to their own physical and moral constitution? (Discourse, no. 17)
{291} These are Waldman's chemists, who "penetrate into the recesses of nature, and shew how she works in her hiding places."

The result of such activity, Davy confidently predicts, will be a more harmonious, cooperative and healthy society. True, he cautions, "We do not look to distant ages, or amuse ourselves with brilliant, though delusive dreams, concerning the infinite improveability of man, the annihilation of labour, disease, and even death" (Discourse, no. 22). But even as Davy apparently disavows the very dream that would inspire Victor Frankenstein, he claims for his own project something very similar: "we reason by analogy from simple facts. We consider only a state of human progression arising out of its present condition. We look for a time that we may reasonably expect, for a bright day of which we already behold the dawn" (Discourse, no. 22). Having boldly stated the social benefits to be {{94}} derived from the pursuit of chemistry, Davy concludes by insisting on the personal gratifications to be gained: "it may destroy diseases of the imagination, owing to too deep a sensibility; and it may attach the affections to objects, permanent, important, and intimately related to the interests of the human species," even as it militates against the "influence of terms connected only with feeling" and encourages instead a rational contemplation of the universal order of things (Discourse, no. 26).

In fairness to Davy, he was very skeptical about Victor Frankenstein's chosen field, the new field of chemical physiology. Commenting on just the kind of enterprise Frankenstein pursues, the search for the principle of life itself, Davy warns:

if the connexion of chemistry with physiology has given rise to some visionary and seductive theories; yet even this circumstance has been useful to the public mind in exciting it by doubt, and in leading it to new investigations. A reproach, to a certain degree just, has been thrown upon those doctrines known by the name of the chemical physiology; for in the applications of them speculative philosophers have been guided rather by the analogies of words than of facts. Instead of slowly endeavouring to lift up the veil concealing the wonderful phenomena of living nature; full of ardent imaginations, they have vainly and presumptuously attempted to tear it asunder. (Discourse, no. 9)
Mary Shelley clearly heeded Davy's words, for she presents Victor Frankenstein as the embodiment of hubris, of that Satanic or Faustian {292} presumption which blasphemously attempts to penetrate the sacred mysteries of the universe.

But in contrast to Davy, Mary Shelley doubted whether chemistry itself -- insofar as it involved a "mastery" of nature -- produced only good. She substituted for Davy's complacent image of the happy scientist living in harmony with both his community and himself the frightening image of the alienated scientist working in feverish isolation, cut off both physically and emotionally from his family, friends, and society. Victor Frankenstein's scientific researches not only bring him no satisfaction; they also leave him, as Laura Crouch has observed, disgusted with the entire scientific enterprise.7 Detached from a respect for nature and from a strong sense of personal responsibility for the products of one's research, scientific experimentation and purely objective thought can and do produce monsters. Mary Shelley might have found trenchant support for her view in Humphrey Davy's praise for one of chemistry's most notable {{95}} achievements: "in leading to the discovery of gunpowder, [chemistry] has changed the institutions of society, and rendered war more independent of brutal strength, less personal, and less barbarous."8

In contrast to Davy, Erasmus Darwin provided Mary Shelley with a powerful image of what she considered "good" science, a careful observation and celebration of the operations of nature with no attempt radically to alter either the way nature works or the institutions of society. Percy Shelley acknowledged the impact of Erasmus Darwin's work on his wife's novel when he began the Preface to the 1818 edition of Frankenstein with the assertion that "the event on which this fiction is founded has been supposed, by Dr. Darwin, and some of the physiological writers of Germany, as not of impossible occurrence" (F, p. 1). To what specific suppositions, theories, and experiments, by Erasmus Darwin and others, did Percy Shelley allude? Mary Shelley, in her Preface to the 1831 edition, referred to an admittedly apocryphal account of one of Dr. Darwin's experiments. During one of Byron and Shelley's many long conversations to which she was "a devout but nearly silent listener," Mary Shelley recalled,

various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated. They talked of the experi- {293} ments of Dr. Darwin (I speak not of what the doctor really did or said that he did, but, as more to my purpose, of what was then spoken of as having been done by him), who preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion. (F, p. 227)
Even though Mary Shelley acknowledges that the animated piece of vermicelli is probably a fiction, Erasmus Darwin's theories have significant bearing on her purposes in Frankenstein.

Erasmus Darwin was most famous for his work on evolution and the growth of plants, and it is this work that Mary Shelley affirmed. Victor Frankenstein is portrayed as a direct opponent of Darwin's teachings, as an anti-evolutionist and a parodic perpetrator of an erroneous "Creation Theory." To perceive this dimension of Victor Frankenstein's project, we must first review the basic tenets of Erasmus Darwin's theories as they appear in his major works, The Botanic Garden (1789, 1791), Zoonomia; or, The Laws of Organic Life (1794), Phytologia (1800), and The Temple of Nature (1803).

Eighteenth-century scientists generally conceived of the universe as a perfect, static world created by divine fiat at a single moment in time. This universe, metaphorically represented as a "great chain of being," manifested myriad and minute gradations between the species, but these relationships were regarded as fixed and permanent. {{96}} As Linnaeus, the great eighteenth-century classifier of all known plant life, insisted in his Systema Naturae (1735), "Nullae species novae" -- no new species can come into existence in a divinely ordered, perfect world. But by the end of the eighteenth century, under pressure from Herschel's new discoveries in astronomy, Cuvier's paleontological researches, William Smith's studies of fossil stratification, Sprengel's work on botanical crossbreeding and fertilization, and observations made with an increasingly powerful microscope, together with a more diffuse Leibnizian "natural theology" that emphasized the study of nature and her interactions with human populations, the orthodox Linnaean concept of an immutable physical universe had begun to weaken.9

Erasmus Darwin was inspired by the researches of the Comte du Buffon, the "father of evolution," who in his huge Histoire Naturelle (44 volumes, 1749-1804) had described myriads of flora and fauna and interspersed comments on the progressive "degeneration" of life forms {294} from earlier and more uniform species, often caused by environmental or climatic changes. Although he adhered to the concept of the scala naturae and the immutability of species, Buffon was the first to discuss seriously such central evolutionary problems as the origin of the earth, the extinction of species, the theory of "common descent," and in particular the reproductive isolation between two incipient species.10 Significantly, it was to Buffon that Victor Frankenstein also turned after his early disillusionment with the alchemists, and Buffon whom he "still read . . . with delight" (F, p. 36).11 But it was Erasmus Darwin who for English readers first synthesized and popularized the concept of the evolution of species through natural selection over millions of years.

By 1803, Erasmus Darwin had accepted, on the basis of shell and fossil remains in the highest geological strata, that the earth must once have been covered by water and hence that all life began in the sea. As Darwin concisely summed up this theory of evolution in his notes to The Temple of Nature,

After islands or continents were raised above the primeval ocean, great numbers of the most simple animals would attempt to seek food at the edges or shores of the new land, and might thence gradually become amphibious; as is now seen in the frog, who changes from an aquatic animal to an amphibious one, and in the gnat, which changes from a natant to a volant one.

At the same time new microscopic animalcules would immediately commence wherever there was warmth and moisture, and some organic matter, that might induce putridity. Those situated on dry land, and immersed in dry air, may gradually acquire new powers to preserve their existence; and by innumerable successive reproductions for some thousands, or perhaps millions of ages, may at length have produced many of the vegetable and animal inhabitants which now people the earth.

As innumerable shell-fish must have existed a long time beneath the ocean, before the calcareous mountains were produced and elevated; it is also probable, that many of the insect tribes, or less complicate animals, existed long before the quadrupeds or more complicate ones.12

Meditating on the suggestion that mankind descended from "one family of monkeys on the banks of the Mediterranean" that learned to use and strengthen the thumb muscle and "by this improved use of the sense of touch . . . acquired clear ideas, and gradually became men," Darwin speculated,
{295} {{97}} Perhaps all the productions of nature are in their progress to greater perfection! an idea countenanced by modern discoveries and deductions concerning the progressive formation of the solid parts of the terraqueous globe, and consonant to the dignity of the Creator of all things. (Temple of Nature, p. 54)
Darwin further suggested that such evolutionary improvement is the direct result of sexual selection:
A great want of one part of the animal world has consisted in the desire of the exclusive possession of the females; and these have acquired weapons to bombard each other for this purpose, as the very thick, shield-like, horny skin on the shoulder of the boar is a defense only against animals of his own species, who strike obliquely upwards, nor are his tusk for other purposes, except to defend himself, as he is not naturally a carnivorous animal. So the horns of the stag are not sharp to offend his adversary, but are branched for the purpose of parrying or receiving the thrusts of horns similar to his own, and have therefore been formed for the purpose of combating other stags for the exclusive possession of the females; who are observed, like the ladies in the times of chivalry, to attend the car of the victor.13
Erasmus Darwin anticipated the modern discovery of mutations, noting in his discussion of monstrous births that monstrosities, or mutations, may be inherited: "Many of these enormities of shape are propagated, and continued as a variety at least, if not as a new species of animal. I have seen a breed of cats with an additional claw on every foot" (Zoonomia, 1794, 1: 501).

In relation to Frankenstein, Erasmus Darwin's most significant evolutionary concept was that of the hierarchy of reproduction. Again and again, in Zoonomia, in The Botanic Garden, in Phytologia, and in The Temple of Nature, Darwin insisted that sexual reproduction is at a higher evolutionary level than hermaphroditic or solitary paternal propagation. As Darwin commented in his note "Reproduction" in The Temple of Nature,

The microscopic productions of spontaneous vitality, and the next most inferior kinds of vegetables and animals, propagate by solitary generation only; as the buds and bulbs raised immediately from seeds, the lycoperdon tuber, with probably many other fungi, and the polypus, volvox, and taenia. Those of the next order propagate both by solitary and sexual reproduction, as those buds and bulbs which produce flowers as well as other buds or bulbs; and the aphis and probably many other {296} insects. Whence it appears, that many of those vegetables and animals, which are produced by solitary generation, {{98}} gradually become more perfect, and at length produce a sexual progeny.

A third order of organic nature consists of hermaphrodite vegetables and animals, as in those flowers which have anthers and stigmas in the same corol; and in many insects, as leeches, snails, and worms; and perhaps all those reptiles which have no bones. . .

And, lastly, the most perfect orders of animals are propagated by sexual intercourse only. (Temple of Nature, Additional Notes, pp. 36-37)

This concept of the superiority of sexual reproduction over paternal propagation was so important to Erasmus Darwin that it forced him radically to revise his concept of reproduction in his third, "corrected" edition of Zoonomia. In 1794, Darwin had argued, following Aristotle, that male plants produce the seed or embryon, while female plants provide only nourishment to this seed, and by analogy, had contended "that the mother does not contribute to the formation of the living ens in normal generation, but is necessary only for supplying its nutriment and oxigenation" (Zoonomia, 1794, I: 487). He then attributed all monstrous births to the female, saying that deformities result from either excessive or insufficient nourishment in the egg or uterus (p. 497). But by 1801, Darwin's observations of both animal and vegetable mules had convinced him that both male and female seeds contribute to the innate characteristics of the species (see Zoonomia, 1801, 2: 296-97. Interestingly, while Darwin no longer attributed monstrous births to uterine deficiencies or excesses, he continued to hold the male imagination at the moment of conception responsible for determining both the sex of the child and its outstanding traits:
I conclude, that the act of generation cannot exist without being accompanied with ideas, and that a man must have at this time either a general idea of his own mate form, or of the forms of his male organs; or an idea of the female form, or of her organs, and that this marks the sex, and the peculiar resemblances of the child to either parent. (Zoonomia, 1794, p. 524; 1801, 2: 270)
{{99}} The impact of the female imagination on the seed in utero is less intense, argued Darwin, because it lasts for a longer period of time and is therefore more diffuse. It follows that Darwin, in 1801, attributed the bulk of monstrous births to the male imagination, a point of obvious relevance to Frankenstein.

{297} Erasmus Darwin's work on what he called "the economy of vegetation" has equally significant implications for Frankenstein. Darwin's comments on plant nutrition, photosynthesis, and the use of fertilizers and manures in Phytologia for the first time put gardening and agriculture on a sound scientific basis.14 Again and again in this lengthy work, Darwin emphasized the necessity to recycle all organic matter. His discussion of manures runs to over 25,000 words and is by far the largest section in this book on plant agriculture. The best manures, Darwin reports, are:

organic matters, which . . . will by their slow solution in or near the surface of the earth supply the nutritive sap-juice to vegetables. Hence all kinds of animal and vegetable substances, which will undergo a digestive process, or spontaneous solution, as the flesh, fat, skin and bones of animals; with their secretions of bile, saliva, mucus; and their excretions of urine and ordure and also the fruit, meal, oil, leaves, wood of vegetables, when properly decomposed on or beneath the soil, supply the most nutritive food to plants.15
He urges every gardener and farmer to save all organic matter for manure, "even the parings of his nails and the clippings of his hair" (p. 241), and further urges the heretical notion that the soil nourished by the decomposition of human bodies ought to be available for growing plants. Mourning the waste of rich soil in churchyards and cemeteries, he argues that
proper burial grounds should be consecrated out of towns, and divided into two compartments, the earth from one of which, saturated with animal decomposition, should be taken away once in ten or twenty years, for the purposes of agriculture; and sand or clay, or less fertile soil, brought into its place. (p. 243)
Throughout his writings, Darwin described a universe that is constantly evolving in abundant creativity. Donald Hassler tellingly defines Darwin's vision of "material forces moving inexorably over vast distances of time and space, with no supernatural or anthropological agency, to produce nearly infinite configurations of organic and inorganic matter" as Darwin's "comic materialism."16 The phrase neatly combines Darwin's comic acceptance of limitations with his sense for the infinitely expansive potential of the universe. I myself would classify Darwin's celebration of a universe that generates itself out of "one {298} central chaos" and returns to that chaos in a catastrophe that "may again by explosions produce a new world" (Temple of Nature, pp. 166-67) as yet another example of English romantic irony, of that revolutionary conception of a universe that is not created by divine fiat but is rather in constant process, merrily multiplying itself out of an abundant chaos or what Friedrich Schlegel called the Fülle.17

Mary Shelley was introduced to Darwin's thought both by her father and later by her husband, who had been heavily influenced by Darwin's evolutionary theories while writing "Queen Mab." Percy Shelley first read The Botanic Garden in July 1811, and in December 18l2 he ordered Darwin's Zoonomia and The Temple of Nature from the booksellers Hookham and Hickman.18 The extensive impact of Darwin's evolutionary and agricultural theories, as well as of {{100}} his poetic language, on Percy Shelley's Notes to "Queen Mab" and on such poems as "The Cloud," "The Sensitive Plant," and Prometheus Unbound has been well documented.19 It is clear that Darwin's work remained vivid in Percy Shelley's mind throughout the period in which Mary Shelley was writing Frankenstein, as his prefatory comment to the novel testifies.


Reading Frankenstein against the background of Darwin's work, we can see that Mary Shelley directly pitted Victor Frankenstein, that modern Prometheus, against those gradual evolutionary processes of nature described by Darwin. Victor Frankenstein wants to originate a new life form quickly, by chemical means. In his Faustian thirst for knowledge and power, he dreams:
Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. (F, p. 49)
Significantly, in his attempt to create a new species, Victor Frankenstein substitutes solitary paternal propagation for sexual reproduction. He thus reverses the evolutionary ladder described by Darwin. And he engages in a notion of science that Mary Shelley deplores, the idea that science should manipulate and control rather than describe and understand nature.

{299} Moreover, his imagination at the moment of conception is fevered and unhealthy; as he tells Walton,

Every night I was oppressed by a slow fever, and I became nervous to a most painful degree; . . . my voice became broken, my trembling hands almost refused to accomplish their task; I became as timid as a love-sick girl, and alternate tremor and passionate ardour took the place of wholesome sensation and regulated ambition. (F, p. 51)
Under such mental circumstances, according to Darwin, the resultant creation could only be a monster. Frankenstein has further increased the monstrousness of his creation by making a form that is both larger and more simple than a normal human being. As he acknowledges to Walton, "As the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature; that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionably large" (F, p. 49). {{101}} Darwin had observed that nature moves "from simpler things to more compound" (Phytologia, p. 118); in defying nature's law, Victor Frankenstein has created not a more perfect species but a degenerative one.

In his attempt to override natural evolutionary development and to create a new species sui generis, Victor Frankenstein enacts a parody of the orthodox creationist theory. While he denies the unique power of God to create organic life, he confirms the capacity of a single creator to originate a new species. Thus he simultaneously upholds the creationist theory and parodies it by creating only a monster. In both ways, he blasphemes against the natural order of things. He moves down rather than up the evolutionary ladder; he reverses human progress and perverts the law of the survival of the fittest. And he denies the natural mode of human reproduction through sexual procreation.

Victor Frankenstein perverts natural evolutionary progress in yet another way. Despite Darwin's insistence that all dead organic matter including decomposing human flesh and bones found in cemeteries ought to be saved for compost heaps and manure, Victor Frankenstein removes human flesh and bones from graveyards. And he does so not in order to generate life organically through what Darwin described as spontaneous animal vitality in microscopic cells"20 but to create a new life form through chemical engineering. Frankenstein has thus dis- {300} rupted the natural life cycle. His attempt to control and speed up the transformation of decomposing organic material into new life forms by artificial means violates the rhythms of nature.

Mary Shelley's novel implicitly invokes Darwin's theory of gradual evolutionary progress to suggest both the error and the evil of Victor Frankenstein's bad science. The genuine improvement of the species can result only from the fusing of both male and female sexuality. In trying to have a baby without a woman, Frankenstein denies to his child the maternal love and nurturance it requires, the very nourishment that Darwin explicitly equated with the female sex. Frankenstein's failure to embrace his smiling creature with maternal love, his horrified rejection of his own creation, spells out the narrative consequences of solitary paternal propagation. But even if Frankenstein had been able to provide his child with a mother's care, he could not have prevented its social ostracism and misery.

{{102}} It is therefore a triple failure of imagination that curses Victor Frankenstein. First, by not imaginatively identifying with his creation, Frankenstein fails to give his child the parental support he owes to it. He thereby condemns his creature to become what others behold, a monster. Second, by imagining that the male can produce a higher form of evolutionary species by lateral propagation than by sexual procreation, Frankenstein defines his own imagination as profoundly anti-evolutionary and thus antiprogressive. Third, in assuming that he can create a perfect species by chemical means, Frankenstein defies a central tenet of romantic poetic ideology: that the creative imagination must work spontaneously, unconsciously, and above all organically, creating forms that are themselves organic heterocosms.

Moreover, in trying to create a human being as God created Adam, out of earth and water, all at once, Victor Frankenstein robs nature of something more than fertilizer. "On a dreary night in November, . . . with an anxiety that almost amounted to agony," Victor Frankenstein infused "a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay" at his feet (F, p. 52). At that moment Victor Frankenstein became the modern Prometheus, stealing fire from the gods to give to mankind and thus overthrowing the established, sacred order of both earth and heaven. At that moment he transgressed against nature.

To understand the full implications of Frankenstein's transgression, {301} we must recognize that his stolen "spark of life" is not merely fire; it is also that recently discovered caloric fluid called electricity. Victor's interest in legitimate science is first aroused by the sight of lightning destroying an old oak tree; it is then that he learns of the existence of electricity and replicates Benjamin Franklin's experiment with kite and key and draws down "that fluid from the clouds" (F, p. 35). In the late eighteenth century, there was widespread interest in Franklin's and Father Beccaria's discoveries of atmospheric electricity, in static electricity, and in artificial or mechanical electricity generated through such machines as the Leyden jar. Many scientists explored the possibility, derived from Newton's concept of the ether as an elastic medium capable of transmitting the pulsations of light, heat, gravitation, magnetism, and electricity, that the atmosphere was filled with a thin fluid that was positively and negatively charged and that could be identified as a single animating principle appearing under multiple guises (as light, heat, magnetism, etc.). Erasmus Darwin speculated that the perpetual necessity of air to the human organism suggests that "the spirit of animation itself is thus acquired from the atmosphere, which if it be supposed to be finer or more subtle than the electric matter, could not long be retained in our bodies and must therefore require perpetual renovation.21 {{103}} And Humphry Davy, founder of the field of electrochemistry, first gave authoritative voice to a theory of matter as electrically charged atoms. In his Elements of Chemical Philosophy, Davy argued:

Whether matter consists of indivisible corpuscles, or physical points endowed with attraction and repulsion, still the same conclusions may be formed concerning the powers by which they act, and the quantities in which they combine; and the powers seem capable of being measured by their electrical relations, and the quantities on which they act of being expressed by numbers. (p. 57)
He further concluded that
it is evident that the particles of matter must have space between them; and . . . it is a probable inference that [each body's] own particles are possessed of motion; but . . . the motion, if it exist, must be a vibratory or undulatory motion, or a motion of the particles round their axes, or a motion of particles round each other. (p. 95)
{302} Reading Darwin and Davy encouraged Percy Shelley in scientific speculations that he had embarked upon much earlier, as a schoolboy at Dr. Greenlaw's Syon House Academy in 1802. Inspired by the famous lectures of Dr. Adam Walker, Percy Shelley had early learned to think of electricity and the processes of chemical attraction and repulsion as modes of a single polarized force. Walker even identified electricity as the spark of life itself. At the conclusion of his discussion of electricity in his A System of Familiar Philosophy, Walker enthused,
Its power of exciting muscular motion in apparently dead animals, as well as of increasing the growth, invigorating the stamina, and reviving diseased vegetation, prove its relationship or affinity to the living principle. Though, Proteus-like, it eludes our grasp; plays with our curiosity; tempts enquiry by fallacious appearances and attacks our weakness under so many perplexing subtilties; yet it is impossible not to believe it the soul of the material world, and the paragon of elements!22
Percy Shelley's basic scientific concepts had long been familiar to Mary Shelley, ever since the early days of their relationship when he {{104}} ritually celebrated his birthday by launching fire balloons.23 That Percy Shelley endorsed Adam Walker's identification of life with electricity is everywhere apparent in his poetry. The imagery of Prometheus Unbound explicitly associates electricity with love, light, and life itself, as in the final act where the Spirit of the Earth, earlier imaged as a Cupid figure, becomes a radiant orb -- or "ten thousand orbs involving and involved" -- of pure energy. And on the forehead of the spirit sleeping within this "sphere within sphere" is a "star" (or negative electrode) that shoots "swords of azure fire" (the blue flames of electrical discharges) or
Vast beams like spokes of some invisible wheel
Which whirl as the orb whirls, swifter than thought,
Filling the abyss with sun-like lightnings,
And perpendicular now, and now transverse,
Pierce the dark soil, and as they pierce and pass,
Make bare the secrets of the Earth's deep heart.24
When Victor Frankenstein steals the spark of being, then, he is literally stealing Jupiter's lightning bolt, as Benjamin Franklin had proved. But in Percy Shelley's terms, he is also stealing the very life of nature, the source of both love and electricity.

{303} Fully to appreciate the science that lies behind Victor Frankenstein's endeavors, however, we must remember that in the 1831 Preface to Frankenstein, Mary Shelley specifically associated electricity with galvanism. In 1831, Victor Frankenstein is disabused of his belief in the alchemists by a "man of great research in natural philosophy" who teaches him the "theory which he had formed on the subject of electricity and galvanism" (F, p. 238); and in her Preface, Mary Shelley directly linked the attempt to give life to dead matter with galvanism. After referring to Dr. Darwin's vermicelli experiment, she writes: "Not thus, after all, would life be given. Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth" (F, p. 227).

In 1791 the Bolognese physiologist Luigi Galvani published his De Viribus Electricitatis in Motui Musculari (or Commentary on the Effects of Electricity on Muscular Motion),25 in which he came to the conclusion that animal tissue contained a heretofore neglected innate vital force, which he called "animal electricity" but which was subsequently widely known as "galvanism"; this force activated both nerves and muscles when spanned by an arc of metal wires {{105}} connected to a pile of copper and zinc plates. Galvani believed that his new vital force was a form of electricity different from both the "natural" form of electricity produced by lightning or by the torpedo and electric eel and the "artificial" form produced by friction (i.e., static electricity). Galvani argued that the brain is the most important source of the production of this "electric fluid" and that the nerves acted as conductors of this fluid to other nerves and muscles, the tissues of which act much like the outer and inner surfaces of the widely used Leyden jar. Thus the flow of animal electric fluid provided a stimulus which produced contractions of convulsions in the irritable muscle fibers.

Galvani's theories made the British headlines in December 1802 when, in the presence of their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the dukes of York, Clarence, and Cumberland, Galvani's nephew, disciple, and ardent defender, Professor Luigi Aldini of Bologna University, applied a voltaic pile connected by metallic wires to the ear and nostrils of a recently killed ox head. At that moment, "the eyes were seen to open, the ears to shake, the tongue to be agitated, and the {304} nostrils to swell, in the same manner as those of the living animal, when irritated and desirous of combating another of the same species."26 But Professor Aldini's most notorious demonstration of galvanic electricity took place on 17 January 1803 -- On that day he applied galvanic electricity to the corpse of the murderer Thomas Forster. The body of the recently hanged criminal was collected from Newgate, where it had lain in the prison yard at a temperature Of 30 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour, by the president of the College of Surgeons, Mr. Keate, and brought immediately to Mr. Wilson's anatomical theater where the following experiments were performed. When wires attached to a pile composed of 120 plates of zinc and 120 plates of copper were connected to the ear and mouth of the dead criminal, Aldini later reported, "the jaw began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and the left eye actually opened" (p. 193) -- When the wires were applied to the dissected thumb muscles, they "induced a forcible effort to clench the hand"; when applied to the ear and rectum, they "excited in the muscles contractions much stronger . . . The action even of those muscles furthest distant from the points of contact with the arc was so much increased as almost to give an appearance of re-animation." And when volatile alkali was smeared on the nostrils and mouth before the galvanic stimulus was applied, "the convulsions appeared to be much increased . . . and extended from the muscles of the head, face, and neck, as far as the deltoid. The effect in this case surpassed our most sanguine expectations," Aldini exults, and remarkably concludes that "vitality might, perhaps, have been {{106}} restored, if many circumstances had not rendered it impossible" (pp. 194-95). Here is the scientific prototype of Victor Frankenstein, restoring life to dead bodies.

An event so notorious and so widely reported in the popular press must have been discussed in both the Shelley and Godwin households at the time and would have been recalled, however inaccurately, during the conversations between Shelley and Byron in which the possibility of reanimating a corpse was discussed. Indeed, the popular interest in galvanic electricity reached such a pitch in Germany that an edict forbidding the use of decapitated criminals' heads for galvanic experiments was passed in Prussia in 1804. It is probably to these events, as well as to experiments in Germany by F. H. A. Humboldt, C. J. C. Grapengiesser, and Johann Caspar Creve and reports of them pub- {305} lished by J. A. Heidmann and Lorenz Oken, that Percy Shelley referred in his Preface to Frankenstein when he insisted that "the event on which this fiction is founded has been supposed, by Dr. Darwin and some of the physiological writers of Germany, as not of impossible occurrence" (F, p. 6). Even though Erasmus Darwin never fully endorsed the revolutionary theory of Galvani and Volta that electricity is the cause of muscular motion, he was convinced that electricity stimulated plant growth (Botanic Garden, 1:463).

{{107}} Mary Shelley's familiarity with these galvanic experiments came not only from Shelley and Byron, but also from Byron's physician, Dr. William Polidori. As a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, Polidori had been exposed to the latest galvanic theories and experiments by the famous Edinburgh physician Dr. Charles Henry Wilkinson, whose review of the literature, Elements of Galvanism in Theory and Practice, was published in 1804. Dr. Wilkinson continued research on galvanism and developed his own galvanic treatments for intermittent fevers, amaurosis, and quinsy, and he reported several successes.


Mary Shelley based Victor Frankenstein'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 nineteenth century. But Frankenstein reflects much more than merely an intelligent use of the latest scientific knowledge. Perhaps because she was a woman, Mary Shelley understood that much of the scientific research of her day incorporated an attempt to dominate the female.

Francis Bacon heralded the seventeenth-century scientific revolution as a calculated attempt to control and exploit female Nature: "I am come in very truth leading to you Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave." Bacon's metaphor of a passive, possessable female nature radically transformed the traditional image of female nature as Dame Kind, the "all creating" and bounteous mother earth who single-handedly bore and nourished her children. But it was Bacon's metaphor that structured much of the new scientific writing in England in the eighteenth century. Isaac Barrow, Newton's teacher, declared that the aim of the new philosophy was to "search {306} Nature out of her Concealments, and unfold her dark Mysteries,"27 while Robert Boyle noted contemptuously that "some men care only to know Nature, others desire to command her."28 Henry Oldenburg, a future secretary of the Royal Society, invoked Bacon to support his assertion that the "true sons of learning" are those men who do not remain satisfied with the well-known truths but rather "penetrate from Nature's antechamber to her inner closet."29 As Brian Easlea concludes, many seventeenth-century natural philosophers and their successors viewed the scientific quest as a virile masculine penetration into a passive and by herself uncreative female nature, a penetration that would, in Bacon's words, not merely exert a "gentle guidance over nature's course" but rather "conquer and subdue her" and even "shake her to her foundations."30

A product of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, Frankenstein had been taught to see nature the way Bacon did, as female but inert. He sees nature "objectively," as something separate from himself, a passive and even dead "object of my affection"31 that can and should be penetrated, analyzed, and controlled. He thus accords nature no living soul or "personhood" that requires recognition or respect.

Wordsworth had articulated the danger inherent in thinking of nature as something distinct from human consciousness. A reader of Wordsworth, Mary Shelley understood nature in his terms, as a sacred all-creating mother, a living organism or ecological community with which human beings interact in mutual dependence; to defy this filial bond, as Frankenstein does, is to break one's ties with the source of life and health. Hence Frankenstein becomes ill in the process of carrying out his experiment: "every night I was oppressed by a slow fever, and I became nervous to a most painful degree"; and at its completion, he collapses in "a nervous fever" that confines him to his sickbed for several months.

But Mary Shelley's critique of objective, rationalistic thought goes beyond Wordsworth's romantic organicist notion that "we murder to dissect." As Gillian Beer has suggested elsewhere in this volume, scientific discourse often depends upon metaphors that reflect the dominant concerns of the culture. Mary Shelley perceived a potentially dangerous metaphor inherent in the scientific thought of her day. {307} Nature is female, Dame Kind, Mother Earth (see Sally Shuttleworth's essay in this volume). As "all creating nature," she can be seen as the abundantly providing, ever nurturing mother, the blessed source of life itself. But this sacramental view of female nature has been foresworn by Waldman, Frankenstein, and many of the leading scientists of Mary Shelley's day. As Professor Waldman proclaims, scientists "penetrate into the recesses of nature, and shew how she works in her hiding places" (F, p. 42, my emphasis). Nature has become the passive female whose sole function is to satisfy male desires. Carolyn Merchant, Evelyn Fox Keller, and Brian Easlea have drawn our attention to the negative consequences of this identification of nature as the passive female. Construing nature as the "other" has led, as Merchant shows, to the increasing destruction of the environment and the disruption of the delicate ecological balance between man and nature. Moreover, as Keller has suggested in her studies of how the making of men and women has affected the making of science, the professional scientific demand for "objectivity" and detachment often masks a prior psychological alienation from the mother and an aggressive desire to dominate the female sex object. The result can be a dangerous division between what C. P. Snow called the "two cultures," between the power-seeking practices of science and the concerns of humanists with moral responsibility, emotional communion, and spiritual values. The scientist who analyzes, manipulates, and attempts to control nature unconsciously engages in a form of oppressive sexual politics. Construing nature as the female other, he attempts to make nature serve his own ends, to gratify his own desires for power, wealth, reputation.

Frankenstein's scientific project is clearly an attempt to gain power. He is inspired by Waldman's description of scientists who "have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of the heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows" (F, p. 42). He has sought the power of a father over his children, of God over his creation. "A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs," he exults (F, p. 49). More subtly yet more pervasively, Frankenstein has sought power over the female. He has "pursued nature to her hiding {308} places" (F, p. 49) in an attempt not only to penetrate nature and show how her hidden womb works but actually to steal or appropriate that womb. In effect, Frankenstein has tried to usurp the function of the female in the reproductive cycle and thus eliminate the necessity, at least for the purposes of the biological survival of mankind, of female sexuality.

A fear of female sexuality is implicit in a patriarchal construction of gender.32 Uninhibited female sexual experience threatens the foundation of patriarchal power: the establishment of patrilineal kinship networks together with the conveyancing of both property and prestige by inheritance entailed upon a male line. Significantly, in the patriarchal world of Geneva pictured in the novel, female sexuality is strikingly repressed. All the women are presented as sexless: Caroline Beaufort is a devoted daughter and chaste wife; Elizabeth Lavenza's relationship with Victor is that of a sister; even Sate merely holds hands with her beloved Felix.

In this context, the murder of Elizabeth Lavenza on her wedding night becomes doubly significant. As several critics have noted, the scene of her death is based on a painting Mary Shelley knew well, Henry Fuseli's The Nightmare. The corpse of Elizabeth lies in the attitude in which Fuseli placed his nightmare ridden woman: "She was there, lifeless and inanimate, thrown across the bed, her head hanging down, and her pale and distorted features half covered by her hair" (F, p. 193). Fuseli's woman is an image of female erotic desire, both lusting for and terrified of the succubus that crouches upon her breasts. Invoking this image, Mary Shelley alerts us to what Victor fears: his bride's sexuality.33 For Elizabeth might never have been killed had Victor not sent her into their nuptial bedroom alone. Returning to the body of the murdered Elizabeth, Victor "embraced her with ardour; but the deathly languor and coldness of the limbs told me, that what I now held in my arms had ceased to be the Elizabeth whom I had loved and cherished" (F, p. 193). Victor most passionately desires his bride when he knows she is dead. The allusion to his earlier dream, when he thought to embrace the living Elizabeth but instead held in his arms the corpse of his mother, reveals Victor's most powerful erotic desire, a desire to possess the dead mother.

Afraid of female sexuality and the power of human reproduction it {309} enables, both Frankenstein and the patriarchal society he represents use the technologies of science and the laws of the polis to control and repress women. But Mary Shelley portrays Frankenstein's desire to penetrate and usurp the female as monstrous, unattainable, and finally self-destructive. For nature is not the passive, inert, or "dead" matter that Frankenstein imagines;34 she resists and revenges his attempts. During his research, nature denies to Victor Frankenstein both mental and physical health: "my enthusiasm was checked by my anxiety, and I appeared rather like one doomed by slavery to toil in the mines, or any other unwholesome trade, than an artist occupied by his favourite employment. Every night I was oppressed by a slow fever, and I became nervous to a most painful degree" (F, p. 51). Victor continues to be tormented by anxiety attacks, bouts of delirium, periods of distraction and madness. As soon as he determines to blaspheme against nature a second time, by creating a female human being, nature torments him with a return of his mental illness: "Every thought that was devoted to it was an extreme anguish, and every word that I spoke in allusion to it caused my lips to quiver and my heart to palpitate" (F, p. 156); "my spirits became unequal -- I grew restless and nervous" (F, p. 162). In the end, Frankenstein's obsession with destroying his creature exposes him to such mental and physical distress that he dies before his twenty-fifth birthday.

Moreover, nature pursues Victor Frankenstein with the very electricity he has stolen: lightning, thunder, and rain rage around him. On the November night on which he steals the "spark of being" from nature, "the rain . . . poured from a black and comfortless sky" (F, p. 54). He glimpses his creature during a flash of lightning at Plainpalais (F, p. 71) and first speaks with him as "rain poured down in torrents, and thick mists hid the summits of the mountains" (F, p. 91). Setting sail from the Orkney island after he has destroyed his female creature, Frankenstein is pursued by a fierce wind and high waves that threaten his own life (F, p. 169). Frankenstein ends his life and his pursuit of his monster surrounded by the aurora borealis, the electromagnetic field of the north pole. The atmospheric effects of the novel, which most readers have dismissed as little more than the traditional trappings of Gothic fiction, in fact manifest the power of nature to revenge herself upon those who transgress her sacred boundaries. The elemental forces that {310} Victor has released pursue him to his hiding places, hounding him like avenging Furies, denying him the capacity for natural procreation.

The novel thus calls into question the gendered metaphor on which much Western scientific theory and practice is founded. The attempt of science to penetrate, possess, and control Mother Nature entails both a violation of the sacred rights of nature and a false belief in the "objectivity" or "rationality" of scientific research. When it construes nature as a passive and possessable female, Western science encodes a sexist metaphor that has profoundly troubling implications, not only for women but for human survival. As Frankenstein's monster tells him, "Remember that I have power; . . . I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you" (F, p. 165). Like Victor Frankenstein, modern scientists have too often treated nature as the "other," to be exploited rather than understood and served through detailed, loving, and noninterventionist description. In their search for the truth about the workings of the physical universe, they have ignored the possibility that their manipulations of nature might harm her. Too often, they have failed to take responsibility for the predictable consequences of their research, failed to care for their own technological progeny. As Mary Shelley first perceived, a scientific method founded on the gendered construction of nature as the female other, as the passive object of desire, hence possessable and exploitable, can produce monsters, even monsters of biological, chemical, and nuclear warfare capable of destroying civilization as we know it.


1. Quoted in Benjamin Farrington, "Temporis Partus Masculus: An Untranslated Writing of Francis Bacon," Centaurus 1 (1951), p. 197.

2. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818 Text), ed. James Rieger (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1974; rpt. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 43.

3. Sir Harold Hartley discusses the importance to Davy's career of this introductory lecture in Humphry Davy (London: Nelson, 1966).

4. Mary Shelley's Journal, ed. Frederick L. Jones (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1947), p. 67. Laura Crouch argued that the Discourse is the book listed by Mary Shelley in her Journal under Books Read in 1816 as "Introduction to Davy's Chemistry." See "Davy's A Discourse, Introductory to a Course of Lectures on Chemistry: A Possible Scientific Source of Frankenstein," Keats-Shelley Journal 27 (1978): 35-37. Mary Shelley would have known of Humphry Davy's {311} work since childhood; she may even have been introduced to him when Davy dined with Godwin on 16 February 1801.

5. Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Frederick Jones (Oxford: Clarendon, 1964), 1:319.

6. Humphry Davy, A Discourse, Introductory to a Course of Lectures on Chemistry (London: J. Johnson, 1802), 5-6.

7. Crouch, "Davy's A Discourse," p. 43.

8. Humphry Davy, Elements of Chemical Philosophy (London, 1812.), p. 58.

9. See chapters 1 and 2 Of Loren Eiseley's Darwin's Century: Evolution and the Men Who Discovered It (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1958) and Ernst Mayr's The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1982), pp. 301-41.

10. Mayr, Growth of Biological Thought, pp. 329-37.

11. Percy Shelley also read Buffon attentively. In his journal letter to Peacock of 23 July 1816, Shelley alludes to the first volume of Buffon's work La théorie de la terre, in the course of describing the glaciers of Mont Blanc: "I will not pursue Buffon's sublime but gloomy theory, that this earth which we inhabit will at some future period be changed into a mass of frost" (Letters, 1:499).

12. Erasmus Darwin, The Temple of Nature (London: John Johnson, 1803), pp. 29-30.

13. Erasmus Darwin, Zoonomia; or, The Laws of Organic Life (London: John Johnson, 1794; 3d "corrected" ed., 1801), Vol. 1 (1794), p. 503.

14. Desmond King-Hele, Erasmus Darwin (London: Macmillan, 1963), p. 3.

15. Erasmus Darwin, Phytologia; or, The Philosophy of Agriculture and Gardening (London: John Johnson, 1800), p. 254.

16. Donald M. Hassler, Erasmus Darwin, (New York: Twayne, 1973), p. 17.

17. Anne K. Mellor, English Romantic Irony (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980), chap. 1.

18. P. B. Shelley, Letters, 1:129.

19. For the influence of Erasmus Darwin on Percy Shelley's thought and poetry see Carl Grabo, A Newton among Poets: Shelley's Use of Science in "Prometheus Unbound" (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1930), pp. 22-74; Desmond King-Hele's Shelley: His Thought and Work (London: Macmillan, 1960), pp. 162-64, as well as his Erasmus Darwin, pp. 144-51; Kenneth Neill Cameron, The Young Shelley: Genesis of a Radical (London; Victor Gollancz, 195 1), pp. 121, 24o; Robert M. Maniquis, "The Puzzling Mimosa: Sensitivity and Plant Symbols in Romanticism," Studies in Romanticism 8 (1969): 129-55.

20. Erasmus Darwin discusses this process in The Temple of Nature, Additional Note 1: "Spontaneous Vitality of Microscopic Animals," pp. 1-11.

21 Erasmus Darwin, The Botanic Garden (London: John Johnson, part. 1: "The Economy of Vegetation," 1791; Pt. 2: "The Loves of the Plants," 1789), Canto I, note to line 401.

22. Adam Walker, A System of Familiar Philosophy (London, 1799), p. 391.

23. Richard Holmes, Shelley: The Pursuit (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1975), pp. 149, 344.

24. Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Prometheus Unbound," The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Thomas Hutchinson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1905), 4. 274-79.

25. Luigi Galvani, De Viribus Electricitatis in Motui Musculari. Commentarius (Bologna, 1791); Commentary on the Effects of Electricity on Muscular Motion, trans. M. G. Foley, with notes and introduction by I. Bernard Cohen (Norwalk, Conn.: Burndy Library, 1953).

26. John Aldini, An Account of the Late Improvements in Galvanism, with a series of Curious and Interesting Experiments performed before the Commissioners of the French National Institute and repeated lately ill the Anatomical Theatres of London; to which is added, An Appendix, containing the author's Experiments on the Body of a Malefactor executed at New Gate (London: Cuthell and Martin, 1803), p. 54. (This book is an English translation of the original French text, Essai théorique et expérimentale sur le galvanisme published in Paris in 1802 and translated into German by F. H. Martens and published at Leipzig in 1804.)

27. Isaac Barrow, The Usefulness of Mathematical Learning Explained and Demonstrated (1734; London: Frank Cass, 1770), p. xxx.

28. Robert Boyle, The Works of Robert Boyle, ed. Thomas Birch, 6 vols. (London, 1772), 1:310.

29. Correspondence of Henry Oldenburg, ed. Rupert Hall and Marie Hall (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1965), 1:113.

30. Brian Easlea, Science and Sexual Oppression, Patriarchy's Confrontation with Woman and Nature (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981), pp. 83-86.

31. This phrase was deleted by Percy Shelley from Mary Shelley's manuscript of Frankenstein (now in the Bodleian Library, Abinger Dep. c. 477/1). Her original version of the passage at F, 50, lines 31-33 reads thus: "I wished, as it were, to procrastinate my feelings of affection, until the great object of my affection was compleated."

32. One of the first and still most insightful analyses of the psychological and cultural dimensions of male hostility to female sexuality appears in Karen Horney's essays, collected in Feminine Psychology, ed. Harold Kelman (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967), especially "The Flight from Womanhood" (1926), pp. 54-70; "The Distrust between the Sexes" (1930), pp. 108-18; and "The Dread of Woman" (1932), pp. 133-46.

33. Paul Cantor has discussed Victor Frankenstein's rejection of normal sexuality in Creature and Creator: Myth-making and English Romanticism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), pp. 109-15.

34. While I am in large agreement with Mary Poovey's analysis of Frankenstein's egoistic desire (in The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984], pp. 123-33), I do not share her view that the nature we see in Frankenstein is "fatal to human beings and human relationships" (p. 126). Poovey fails to distinguish between Frankenstein's perception of nature as "dead" matter and Mary Shelley's own vision of nature as a sacred ecological system in which human beings ought to participate in conscious harmony.

¶.{{106}} In further experiments conducted by Aldini in 1804, the bodies of human corpses became violently agitated and one raised itself as if about to walk; arms alternately rose and fell; and one forearm was made to hold a weight of several pounds, while the fists clenched and beat violently the table upon which the body lay. Natural respiration was also artificially reestablished and, through pressure exerted against the ribs, a lighted candle paced before the mouth was several times extinguished.24a

Aldini's experiments on the severed heads of oxen, frogs legs. dogs' bodies, and human corpses were replicated widely throughout Europe in the early 1800s. His colleagues at Bologna, Drs. Vassali-Eandi, Rossi, and Giulio, reported to the Academy of Turin on August 15, 1802, that they had been able to excite contractions even in the involuntary organs of the heart and digestive systems, 25a while applications of galvanic electricity to vegetables, animals, and humans were conducted in Germany by F.H.A. Humboldt, Edmund Schmück, C.J.C. Grappengiesser, and Johann Caspar Creve.26a Their experiments were reported in 1806 by J.A. Heidmann in his Theorie der Galvanischen Elektrizität, while the theoretical implications of galvanism were expounded by Lorenz Oken in his influential Lehrbuch der Naturphilosophie (Leipzig, 1809-10). Oken argued that polarity is the first and only force in the world; that galvanism or electrical polarity is therefore the principle of life; and that organic life is galvanism in a state of homogenous mass.27a

24a. These results are reported by Paul Fleury Mottelay, in his Bibliographical History of Electricity and Magnetism (London: C. Griffins & Col, Lts., 1922), which gives a complete set of references to Aldini's experiments, pp. 305-7.

25a. Reported by Dr. Giulio in Aldini, Galvanism, pp. 204-8.

26a. See F. H. A. Humboldt, Sur Galvanisme, trans. J. F. N. Jadelot (Paris, 1799); Edmund Joseph Schmück, "On the action of galvanic electricity on the mimosa pudica, cited in Mottelay, Bibliographical History of Electricity, p. 332; C. J. C. Grapengieser, Versuche den Galvanismus (Berlin, 1801, 1802); and Johann Caspar Creve, Beiträge zu Galvanis versuchen (Frankfurt and Leipzig, 1793).

27a. See Paul Motterlay, Bibliogrpahical History of Electricity, pp. 402-4.