Contents Index

The Origins of the Species: Mary Shelley

Brian Aldiss

Chapter 1 of Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973)

{7} The gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present . . .

Percy Bysshe Shelley: The Defence of Poetry
"The stars shone at intervals, as the clouds passed over them; the dark pines rose before me, and every here and there a broken tree lay on the ground; it was a scene of wonderful solemnity, and stirred strange thoughts within me." Thus Baron Frankenstein, after an encounter with the creature he has created out of dismembered corpses, while he tries to decide whether or not to build it a mate.

The shattered scenery, the sense of desolation, the baron's dilemma -- ghastly but hardly the sort of quandary one gets into in everyday life -- are all characteristic of a broad range of science fiction. As for the baron's strange thoughts, science fiction is a veritable forest of them.

That forest, remote and overgrown, is so full of interest, has reached such proportions, that an attempt at formal exploration is necessary. Trails have been blazed, exciting footpaths run here and there; but the present author hopes boldly to drive a new motorway through the heart of the forest. Without marking every tree, we will provide a contour map of the whole science fiction landscape.

{8} To emerge from the undergrowth of our metaphor, this volume investigates the considerable body of writing which has come to be regarded as science fiction, in order to try and illuminate what is obscure, and to increase the enjoyment of what is already enjoyable.

In this first chapter, we attend to three matters. We look at the dream world of the Gothic novel, from which science fiction springs; we identify the author whose work marks her out as the first science fiction writer; and we investigate the brilliant context -- literary, scientific, and social -- from which she drew life and inspiration.

As a preliminary, we need a definition of science fiction. What is science fiction?

Many definitions have been hammered out. Most of them fail because they have regard to content only, and not to form. The following may sound slightly pretentious for a genre that has its strong fun side, but we can modify it as we go along.

Science fiction is the search for a definition of man and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science), and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mould.

There's a corollary: the more powers above the ordinary that the protagonist enjoys, the closer the fiction will approach to hardcore science fiction. Conversely, the more ordinary and fallible the protagonist, the further from hard-core.

In many cases, it is impossible to separate science fiction from science fantasy, or either from fantasy, since both genres are part of fantasy.*a

One etymological dictionary offers such definitions of fantasy as "mental apprehension," "delusive imagination," and "baseless supposition" -- terms which serve equally well to describe certain types of science fiction. H. G. Wells pointed to a similarity between the two genres when he said of his early stories, "Hitherto, except in exploration fantasies, the fantastic element was brought in by magic. Frankenstein, even, uses some jiggery-pokery magic to animate his artificial monster. There was some trouble about the {9} thing's soul. But by the end of last century it had become difficult to squeeze even a momentary belief out of magic any longer. It occurred to me that instead of the usual interview with the devil or a magician, an ingenious use of scientific patter might with advantage be substituted . . . I simply brought the fetish stuff up to date, and made it as near actual theory as possible."1

This is science assimilating fantasy. Fantasy is almost as avid in assimilating science: in 1705, Daniel Defoe wrote Consolidator: or, Transactions from the World in the Moon, featuring a machine that would convey a man to the Moon, which was inspired by popular expositions of Newton's celestial mechanics. In its wider sense, fantasy clearly embraces all science fiction. But fantasy in a narrower sense, as opposed to science fiction, generally implies a fiction leaning more towards myth or the mythopoeic than towards an assumed realism. (The distinction is clear if we compare Ray Bradbury's Mars with the painstakingly delineated Mars of Rex Gordon's No Man Friday: Bradbury's Mars stands as an analogy and Gordon's as a Defoe-like essay in definition.)

You have to understand that the science fiction search for that "definition of man" is often playful. And what the definition does not do is determine whether the end product is good, bad, sheer nonsense, or holy writ (as Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land has been taken as holy writ). Definitions, after all, are to assist, not overpower, thinking.

The definition takes for granted that the most tried and true way of indicating man's status is to show him confronted by crisis, whether of his own making (overpopulation), or of science's (new destructive virus), or of nature's (another Ice Age). And that there are forms of fiction which may appear to fulfil the definition but nevertheless are not science fiction -- generally because they are ur-science fiction (existing before the genre was originated), from Dante's great imaginary worlds of Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso onwards -- or because they transcend the Gothic format, as do Moby Dick, Thomas Hardy's novels, John Cowper Powys' A Glastonbury Romance, the plays of Samuel Beckett, and so forth.

If all this sounds somewhat all-embracing, nevertheless this volume errs on the side of exclusiveness. It's more hard-core than soft.

All the same, I admit to sympathy with the view that many of the most ancient forms of literature are recognisably kin to science {10} fiction; that voyages of discovery, mythical adventures, fantastic beasts, and symbolic happenings are part of the grand tradition in storytelling which the realistic novel of society has only recently rejected. Thus, The Epic of Gilgamesh, with the world destroyed by flood, the Hindu mythology, the Odyssey, Beowulf, the Bible -- and practically everything down to Mickey Mouse Weekly -- has been claimed at one time or another by science fiction fans with colonial ambitions.

The phrase in my definition about "advanced knowledge" takes care of that bit of grandiose aspiration. Science fiction is now, not then.

Nevertheless, Milton's Paradise Lost, Book II, with Satan crossing that "vast vacuity" between his world and ours, looks suspiciously like the pure quill!

Frontiers are by tradition a bit vague. Happily, it is a simple matter to identify the first true example of the genre.

The term "science fiction" is a recent one. It was coined in the late 1920s, as an improvement on the more ludicrous term "scientifiction," long after the genre itself had come into being. It was then applied to crudely written stories appearing in various American magazines, of which Amazing Stories (1926 onwards) was the first. For more respectable forays into the same fields, the label "scientific romance" was used.*b

This somewhat parvenu feeling about science fiction has led its adherents to claim for it, in contradictory fashion, both amazing newness and incredible antiquity. Potted histories of the genre take their potted historians back cantering briskly through Greek legends of flying gods like Hermes and satirical voyages to Moon and stars undertaken by Lucian of Samosata in the second century A. D. But science fiction can no more be said to have "begun" with Lucian than space flight "began" in Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks.

On the long struggle upwards from Lucian to the millennial date of 1926, the historians scoop in Thomas More, Rabelais, Cyrano de Bergerac, Jonathan Swift, and a whole clutch of eighteenth-cen- {11} tury bishops. One of the more learned anthologists, in a Croatian science fiction anthology, enlists Dante and Shakespeare to the ranks,2 while the first chapter of Genesis has also been claimed, perhaps with more justification.

Such trawls for illustrious ancestors are understandable, in critics as in families. But they lead to error, the first error being the error of spurious continuity -- of perceiving a connection or influence where none exists; forgetting that writers write with the flux of life going on about them, scholars rake through their books and pass over in a couple of pages the thirteen long centuries that lie between Lucian and Ariosto.3

The second error to which this ancestor search has led is to interpret science fiction as a series of imaginary voyages to the Moon and other planets.

The interplanetary flight is certainly a part of science fiction and, in the nineteen-fifties when space fever was high,*c seemed a major part; certainly the development and increasing refinement of such flight towards scientific reality may be charted, indeed has been charted, most successfully by Marjorie Hope Nicolson.4 But the range of science fiction is far wider than this limitation implies. It is not necessary to leave this planet Earth to be a science fiction writer; indeed, it is not even necessary to write about technological developments; the effect of those developments may provide more imaginative scope.

A Lucian-to-Verne approach to science fiction is mistaken, leading to misinterpretation of the nature and role of science fiction. A chronological listing of authors who have responded to innovatory ideas and discoveries is insufficient for today's more sophisticated needs.

Science fiction, like most branches of art today, is more aware than ever before of its own nature. The intention of this volume is not to neglect science fiction's illustrious precursors, who are as essential to it as cathedrals to a study of architecture, but to remove them from a hitherto perspectiveless gloom.

The greatest successes of science fiction are those which deal with man in relation to his changing surroundings and abilities: what might loosely be called environmental fiction. With this in {12} mind, I hope to show that the basic impulse of science fiction is as much evolutionary as technological. While thinking in these terms, it will be appropriate to regard Lucian and the other pilgrim fathers as near and cherished relations to science fiction writers, as we regard the great apes as near and cherished relations of man, to be allowed all due respect for primogeniture.

The evolutionary revolution and the Industrial Revolution occurred in the same period of time.

The quickening tempo of manufacture becomes most noticeable in Great Britain in the second half of the eighteenth century, at a time when populations were beginning to increase rapidly. This traditional incentive to industrial advance was coupled with the roster of inventions with which we are familiar from school: Hargreaves' spinning jenny, Cartwright's power loom, Watt's steam engine, and so on.

Industry was not alone in undergoing transformation. The American Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789 were documents in man's revision of his attitude to his own kind. It is no coincidence that the abolition of slavery was a burning issue at this time. Or that Western man now began to alter his attitude towards his God.

It was in this changeable cultural climate that science fiction first emerges -- with a discretely blasphemous nature that it still retains.

Speculations on evolution and natural selection were current at the end of the eighteenth century. The ancient Greeks had held enlightened views on these matters, Thales believing that all life originated in water and Anaximenes holding that life came into being spontaneously from the primaeval slime. But, in Christian Europe, the Bible defeated any such ideas, and a literal interpretation of Genesis still generally held sway.

The debate on whether species were fixed or mutable was a long one. It gained point and savour in the eighteenth century from the impact of Pacific exploration. The world of the South Seas -- the first region of the globe to be opened up scientifically -- provided new stimulus to old questions of how our planet, its animals, and men, had come about.

In the last decade of the century came a remarkable foreshad- {13} owing of the theory of evolution, its arguments properly buttressed, and its references up to date. Its author was Darwin -- not Charles Darwin of the Beagle but his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin.

Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) was a doctor by profession, and a contemporary of Diderot and the Cyclopaedists, fired by their ideas. He was a witty and forceful talker with an enquiring mind. Many inventions stand to his credit, such as new types of carriages and coal carts, a speaking machine, a mechanical ferry, rotary pumps, and horizontal windmills.

He seems also to have invented -- or at least proposed -- a rocket motor powered by hydrogen and oxygen. His rough sketch shows the two gases stored in separate compartments and fed into a cylindrical combustion chamber with exit nozzle at one end -- a good approximation of the workings of a modern rocket, and formulated considerably before the ideas of the Russian rocket pioneer Tsiolkovsky were put to paper. The best discussion of this most interesting man and his thoughts and inventions is by Desmond King Hele.5

Among all his other capacities, Erasmus Darwin was an able versifier. He gained -- and soon lost -- fame as a poet. In his long poems he laid out his findings on evolution and influenced the great poets of his day. His is the case of a once-gigantic, now-vanished reputation. Samuel Taylor Coleridge referred to him in 1797 as "the first literary character of Europe, and the most original-minded man"; by his grandson's day, he was quite forgotten.

Darwin's mighty work Zoonomia was published in two volumes in 1794 and 1796. It explains the system of sexual selection, with emphasis on primaeval promiscuity, the search for food, and the need for protection in living things, and how these factors, interweaving with natural habitats, control the diversity of life in all its changing forms. He also emphasises the great age of the Earth*d; evolutionary processes need time as well as space for their stage management.

The philosophical movements of the nineteenth century which were tinged with Darwinism tended towards pessimism; philosophical men like Tennyson were all too aware of "Nature red in tooth and claw." Erasmus, in his heroic couplets, took a more serene view {14} -- an eighteenth-century view, one might say: equable, even Parnassian. It is easy to imagine that his century would have withstood the shock of evolutionary theory better than its successor.

Shout round the globe, how Reproduction strives
With vanquish'd Death -- and Happiness survives;
How Life increasing peoples every clime,
And young renascent Nature conquers Time.
The extract is from the last canto of The Temple of Nature, posthumously published in 1803. Erasmus concentrated on summing the whole course of evolution so far, from the almost invisible life of the seas to man and man's civilisations. In this poem of four cantos and some two thousand lines, he speaks of the way in which a mammal foetus relives the previous stages of evolution and of the survival of the fittest, as well as prophesying with remarkable accuracy many features of modern life, such as gigantic skyscraper cities, piped water, the age of the automobile, overpopulation, and fleets of nuclear submarines:
Bid raised in air the ponderous structure stand,
Or pour obedient rivers through the land;
With crowds unnumbered crowd the living streets,
Or people oceans with triumphant fleet.
Thus does Erasmus Darwin qualify as a part-time science fiction writer!

His thrusts at church and state brought opposition and his voice was effectively silenced. Parodies of his verse in George Canning's Anti-Jacobin entitled The Loves of the Triangles mocked Darwin's ideas, laughing at his bold imaginative strokes. That electricity could ever have widespread practical applications, that mankind could have evolved from lowly life forms, that the hills could be older than the Bible claimed -- these were the sorts of madnesses which set readers of the Anti-Jacobin tittering, as later generations would scoff at ideas of space travel. Canning recognised the subversive element in Darwin's thought and effectively brought low his reputation as poet.

As for his reputation as scientific innovator -- that also was brought into shade; and once the famous grandson appeared luminous on the scene, eclipse was total. Attempts to reinstate this interesting and delightful man are recent.6

{15} Despite this long eclipse, Erasmus Darwin's thought was seminal. As we might expect, it particularly affected those poets whose response to nature was closest to his own -- the Romantics. Wordsworth owes him something; Shelley's debt is considerable, going far beyond echoes of similar lines. Shelley was a poet of science, a rebel, an atheist, an ardent lover of freedom and the west wind. No wonder he admired Darwin, in whom these qualities were strong.

As we shall see, there is another direction in which Darwin's influence on science fiction is both powerful and direct.

It is worth recalling the names of two novels published in the year that the first volume of Darwin's Zoonomia appeared: William Godwin's Caleb Willams (regarded as the first psychological pursuit story), and Mrs. Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho (regarded as the high point of Gothic).

Although Godwin and Darwin never met, they had connections and sympathies in common, and were pilloried together as atheistical writers, most notably in the Anti-Jacobin. Godwin was a novelist and liberal philosopher whose reputation stood high among the poets and writers of his time. He married Mary Wollstonecraft, another contributor to the debate of the age, especially in her Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792).

w William Hazlitt reported that Coleridge "did not rate Godwin very high [this was caprice or prejudice, real or affected], but he had a great idea of Mrs. Wollstonecraft's powers of conversation." So had the Swiss painter Henry Fuseli, who fell in love with her. After various misfortunes, Mary Wollstonecraft married Godwin and bore him a daughter, Mary.

This Mary grew up to write Frankenstein; she is one of the chief subjects of this chapter. Her writings were Gothic in character, Frankenstein included. To appreciate Frankenstein's full novelty, an understanding of its predecessors of the Gothic school is necessary.

Edmund Burke published his essay on the Sublime and Beautiful in 1756. It became an arbiter of taste for many decades, and its influence lingers today. Burke distinguished between beauty, which is founded on pleasure and is placid, and the sublime, which inspires awe and terror and, with pain as its basis, disturbs the emotions. He speaks of "delightful horror, which is the most genuine ef- {16} fect and truest test of the sublime." Note that this is in the middle of the Age of Enlightenment, a comfort perhaps for those who flinch from the amount of horror contained in a forward-looking genre such as science fiction!

Art, as usual, copied art. The Ossianic poems were the first to fulfil Burke's specifications.*e They were counterfeits by an ingenious Scot, James Macpherson, and immediately branded as counterfeit by Horace Walpole, among others; but their enormous Celtic ghosts, giants, cliffs, storms, and buckets of blood thrilled many writers and artists, among them Fuseli, as well as the rest of the literate population of Europe.

The Ossian poems made their appearance from 1760 to 1763. In 1765 The Castle of Otranto was published pseudonymously. It was so popular that the author, Horace Walpole, bashfully came forward and admitted his identity in a preface to the second edition.

The Castle of Otranto stands as the earliest Gothic novel. One commentator claims that the whole Gothic revival began with a dream.7 On a June night in 1764, Walpole had a nightmare in which he saw a gigantic hand clad in armour, gripping the bannister of a great staircase. When he woke, he began writing his novel.8

Walpole was a great antiquarian. His most lively monument is not Otranto but Strawberry Hill, his residence, which was his own conception, built in Gothic style. He was much influenced by the Prisons of Piranesi9 -- another artist, like Stubbs, in vogue today.

If Castle of Otranto owes something to Piranesi, Vathek has more of Tiepolo in it. This single and singular novel by the eccentric William Beckford is full of magic and wit. Published in 1786, it nods to both Samuel Johnson's Rasselas and the Arabian Nights. Beckford's Strawberry Hill was the architecturally daring Fonthill Abbey (too daring -- the tower collapsed after some years and the building was demolished).

Beckford wrote Vathek in French. Byron called it his Bible. With its Faust-like theme, in which the Calif Vathek sells himself to the powers of evil in exchange for the treasures of the pre-Adamite sultans, it had a natural appeal to what might be called the Byronic {17} side of Byron. Vathek is a much more enjoyable novel than Walpole's, but both have exerted wide influence -- Beckford's not least on Oscar Wilde, a writer with similar predilections, whose Picture of Dorian Gray uses a similar theme and bows to Burke's dictum on the sublime.

This was the time of a botanical renaissance, brought about by the classification of plants by the Swede Linnaeus and more especially by the voyages to the South Seas by Sir Joseph Banks and Captain Cook, killed in Hawaii in 1779. Cook carried back to Europe not only fantastic landscapes and images, from the ice world of the Antarctic to the gigantic heads of Easter Island, but a treasury of plants: three thousand species, one thousand of them unknown to botany. The world was alive with news of itself.

These influences show in Erasmus Darwin's poems. In The Loves of the Plants (with its Fuseli decoration engraved by William Blake), he makes reference to the Antarctic and tells how

Slow o'er the printed snows with silent walk
Huge shaggy forms across the twilight stalk
a couplet which has left its imprint on that very Gothic poem, Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner when the accursed ship is driven to the Southern Pole:
And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken --
The ice was all between.
Today, we see oddity in Darwin's method of expressing exact technical detail in heroic couplets and describing the sex life of plants in human terms; we hardly expect Bentham and Hooker to talk like Pope's Rape of the Lock. Yet the loss is ours. Before Victorian times, art and science had not come to the division that sf tries to bridge.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Gothic novel -- by no means the chief literary form in this brilliantly diverse age -- had produced its best-remembered work, including Matthew "Monk" Lewis' The Monk, a novel overloaded with licentious monks, romantic robbers, ghosts, and a bleeding nun, as well as episodes of murder, torture, homosexuality, matricide, and incest. Even Lord Byron was shocked. Ann Radcliffe's two most famous novels, The {18} Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian, had appeared, as well as countless "blue books," abridgements or imitations of Gothic novels, selling very cheaply and bearing cheap titles.10

These were the sort of fictions made fun of by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey. But fashion was everything; the poet Shelley himself wrote two such novels, Zastrozzi and St. Irvine, while still at school.

Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866) was no Gothic novelist. However, he used the Gothic mise en scene, and the very titles of his remarkable novels look back ironically to the fiction of his youth, from Headlong Hall (1816) to Gryll Grange, published forty-four years later, in 1860. He is of particular interest to science fiction. Not only was he a close friend of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Harriet, Shelley's first wife; his form of discussion novel, in which characters in remote country houses discouragingly discuss the world situation, and anything else that enters their heads, while eating and drinking well, provides a format for later writers of science fiction such as Aldous Huxley.11

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley read Peacock's Melincourt, which was published two years before Frankenstein. The dangers of a critical method which would explain everything in terms of influence and derivation are well exemplified by this little-read novel. For the central character in Melincourt is an orangoutang called Sir Oran Haut-Ton, who does not speak but performs well on flute and French horn. He is a symbol of the natural man, harking back to Rousseau. Is he a literary precursor of Frankenstein's monster? Is he a precursor of Poe's orangoutang in Murders in the Rue Morgue? Is he, indeed, with his title and rolling acres, a precursor of Tarzan? We perhaps do better to turn back to Gothic.

Science fiction was born from the Gothic mode, is hardly free of it now. Nor is the distance between the two modes great. The Gothic emphasis was on the distant and the unearthly, while suspense entered literature for the first time -- Mrs. Radcliffe was praised by Scott for her expertise in suspense. Nowadays, this quality in her work has worn thin, for more expert practitioners have refined her methods -- from Sheridan Le Fanu and Wilkie Collins onward -- and what remains to attract in her best work is a dreamy sense of the exotic. Gothic's brooding landscapes, isolated castles, dismal old towns, and mysterious figures can still carry us into an entranced world from which horrid revelations may start.

{19} The revelations may prove a disappointment, as in The Mysteries of Udolpho. Then we rouse from our dream to indigestion. We know that some Gothic-Romantic authors relied heavily on dreams for inspiration: Mrs. Radcliffe herself consumed indigestible food in order to induce dreams of terror, just as Fuseli ate raw meat towards the same end, in order to feed his voracious muse. Appropriately, Fuseli's most famous canvas is The Nightmare.

The methods of the Gothic writers are those of many science fiction authors, particularly the magazine contributors of the nineteen-thirties, -forties, and -fifties. It would be as absurd to suggest that the latter writers were serious propagandists for the cause of science as that the author of Romano Castle: or, The Horrors of the Forest was a serious critic of the evils of the Inquisition -- however much both sides may have considered themselves in earnest.

Science fiction writers have brought the principle of horrid revelation to a fine art, while the distant and unearthly are frequently part of the same package. Other planets make ideal settings for brooding landscapes, isolated castles, dismal towns, and mysterious alien figures12; often, indeed, the villains may be monks, exploiting a local population under guise of religion.13 The horrid revelation may be on an imposing scale: that mankind has been abroad in the universe long ago, but was beaten back to his home planet by a powerful adversary14; that Earth is merely a sort of Botany Bay or dumping ground for the disposal of the vicious elements of the galaxy15; or that mankind is descended from rats which escaped from some interstellar vessel putting in at Earth.16

Again, for both Gothic and science fiction writers, distance lent enchantment to the view, as the poet Campbell put it. If something unlikely is going to happen, better to set it somewhere where the reader cannot check the occurrence against his own experience.

So locations in Gothic novels lie in a distant and misty past. Mrs. Radcliffe sets The Mysteries of Udolpho in the late sixteenth century; her chateau commands views of a river, with fine trees (she always particularises about trees and many passages in her novels remind us that this was the age of Gilpin's Forest Scenery and Repton's Landscape Gardening), and "the majestic Pyrenees, whose summits, veiled in clouds, or exhibiting awful forms . . . were sometimes barren . . . and sometimes frowned with forests of lofty pine." Mrs. Radcliffe is careful with her locations; her imitators were often less precise.

{20} So with science fiction novels. They may locate themselves in distant futures on Earth, or on one of the planets of the solar system, or anywhere in our galaxy, or even in a distant galaxy; or they may occupy a different probability sphere or another time-track entirely (there are at least three brilliant alternate universe novels, Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee,17 in which the South won the American Civil War; Harry Harrison's A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!, in which George Washington was shot and the American Revolution never happened; and Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, in which the Axis powers won World War II). The Mars celebrated by Edgar Rice Burroughs in his novels is the Mars we know only in name.

The Gothic novel was part of the great Romantic movement. Its vogue passed early in the nineteenth century. But terror, mystery, and that delightful horror which Burke connected with the sublime -- all of them have been popular with a great body of readers ever since, and may be discovered, sound of wind and limb, in science fiction to this day. Perhaps this taste set in with the decay of that calm eighteenth-century confidence in hierarchy and rationality expressed by Pope, "whatever is, is right." Shelley was born in 1792, and his is a different outlook with a vengeance!

While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped
Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,
And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing
Hope of high talk with the departed dead.18
The new age had a passion for the inexplicable, as we have in ours; its uncertainties were soon embodied in the pages of the novel written by Shelley's young second wife.

Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus was published in 1818, in the same year as works by Shelley, Peacock, Scott, Hazlitt, Keats, and Byron. The Napoleonic Wars were over; Savannah crossed the Atlantic, the first steamship to do so; the early steam locomotives were chuffing along their metal tracks, the iron foundries going full blast; the Lancashire cotton factories were lit by gas, and gas mains were being laid in London. Telford and McAdam were building roads and bridges, Galvani's followers and Humphry Davy were experimenting with electricity. "So much has been done," exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein, "more, far more, will I achieve!" (Chapter 3)

Mary {21} Wollstonecraft Godwin was born in August 1797. Her intellectual and beautiful mother Mary died ten days later, after a severe haemorrhage and an ague, leaving the impractical Godwin to care for the baby and for Fanny, Mary Wollstonecraft's three-year-old child by an earlier liaison. Later, when Shelley took to calling, he and Godwin became very friendly; Godwin eventually drained a fortune from his young friend. Mary eloped with Shelley in 1814. The next year Mary bore Shelley a son, who died. Her eight brief years with Shelley, until his death by drowning in 1822, were the decisive ones in her melancholy life.

In Mary's affairs1816 marked a vital period. A son, William, was born in January. In May, Shelley, Mary, and Mary's half sister, Claire Clairmont, left England and settled in Switzerland, near Geneva. Here Mary began writing Frankenstein, before her nineteenth birthday. Shelley's first wife, Harriet, drowned herself in the Serpentine early in December, and Shelley and Mary were married before the end of the year.

Here is the attractive portrait Trelawny paints of Mary: "The most striking feature in her face was her calm grey eyes; she was rather under the English standard of woman's height, very fair and light-haired, witty, social, and animated in the society of friends, though mournful in solitude."19 It is hard to resist the idea that this is a portrait of the first writer of science fiction; Mary had imbibed the scientific ideas of Darwin and Shelley; had heard what they had to say about the future; and now set about applying her findings within the loose framework of a Gothic novel.

Frankenstein was completed before Mary was twenty. She lived to write other novels, and died in 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition, aged fifty-three. She is buried in a churchyard in Bournemouth.20

Of her three children by Shelley, only one of them, Percy Florence, survived beyond childhood. As Shelley put it in a poem to her,

We are not happy, sweet! Our state
Is strange and full of doubt and fear.
To modern readers, Mary's methods of narration in Frankenstein may seem clumsy and confusing. Her early readers, to whom the epistolatory style of novel as used by Richardson was still familiar, experienced no such difficulty; for them, the flow of docu- {22} mentation from several hands -- the letters from Captain Walton to his sister in England, the manuscript by Victor Frankenstein, which contains six chapters of his creature's account of its own life, and finally Walton's narrative again -- only added to the general vividness and verisimilitude.

Nor is this narrative arrangement purely arbitrary. Mary may have had Byron and Shelley in mind when conceiving Walton and Frankenstein; her two characters form a strong admiration for each other, and Walton's hazardous voyage is clearly intended to parallel Frankenstein's quest.

The philosophical passages and descriptions of nature would be more welcome in 1818 than they are now. But they are well placed, and the scenic passages in particular are effective, although those set in England, such as the visit to Oxford, seem a little forced, however topographically accurate they may be.

Before growing impatient with the narrative techniques of Frankenstein, we should remember that the novelistic tradition behind Mary owed a good deal to Sterne. The idea of the novel as architecture, even the preoccupation with plot, had not yet arrived. In all her novels, Mary Shelley works to produce a quilt of varied colours, of tears, happiness, sensibility, and occasional "strong" scenes.21 Contrast is what she is after, and in this she succeeds; in Frankenstein there is great variety of contrast.

Mary's original impulse was to begin at Chapter Five: "It was on a dreary night of November. . ." Her husband persuaded her to lengthen the tale. After the scene is set, and the tale of Victor Frankenstein's researches told, his composite creation is brought to life. Overcome by horror at what he has accomplished, Victor runs away from it, and a whole summer passes before he meets it again. During that time, his young brother William is murdered; it is for this murder that an innocent woman, Justine, is hanged. The creature's account of its life since its creation is one of rejection by human society, from its creator onwards. It begins blamelessly like a noble savage -- evil is thrust upon it. In this, Mary follows her father's teaching. The monster beseeches Frankenstein to make a female companion; Frankenstein agrees, subject to certain conditions. Before he begins work on the second creature, he moves to the Orkneys. Frankenstein's migratory instincts may seem odd; undoubtedly they reflect the travel-consciousness of this Napoleonic {23} generation -- many British were abroad in Europe at the same time as the Shelleys.

When his work is almost finished, the uncertain creator pauses, thinking of the "race of devils" that might be raised up by the union between his two creatures (a curious moment, this, for science fiction, looking back towards Caliban's snarl to Prospero in The Tempest -- "I had peopled else the isle with Calibans!" -- and forward to the monstrous legions of robots which were to be unleashed across the pages of the twentieth-century world!). Victor destroys what he has begun, the monster discovers the breach of contract, utters his direst threat -- "I shall be with you on your wedding night!" [3.3.4] -- and disappears.

The rest is a tale of flight and pursuit, punctuated by death and retribution, with everyone's hand turned against the wretched monster, as much from convention and prejudice as from spite. This section contains much of Godwin's thinking, and of his novel, Caleb Williams, which, as its preface announced, was a review of "the modes of domestic and unrecorded despotism by which man becomes the destroyer of man."

In thus combining social criticism with new scientific ideas, while conveying a picture of her own day, Mary Shelley anticipates the methods of H. G. Wells when writing his scientific romances, and some of the authors who followed him.

For a thousand people familiar with the story of Victor creating his monster from selected cadaver spares and endowing them with new life, only to shrink back in horror from his own creation, not one will have read Mary Shelley's original novel. This suggests something of the power of infiltration of this first great myth of the industrial age.*f (Curiously, the legend of Santa Claus was created at about the same time; it is one of the wholly benign legends of our age.)

{24} A reading of the novel reveals how precariously it is balanced between the old age and the new. In Chapter Three, Victor Frankenstein goes to university and visits two professors. To the first, a man called Krempe who is professor of natural philosophy, he reveals how his search for knowledge took him to the works of Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Albertus Magnus. Krempe scoffs at him. "These fancies, which you have so greedily imbibed, are a thousand years old!" [1.2.4]. This is a modern objection; antiquity is no longer the highest court to which one can appeal.

Frankenstein attends the second professor, one Waldman, who lectures on chemistry. Waldman condemns the ancient teachers who "promised impossibilities, and performed nothing" [1.2.6]. He speaks instead of the moderns, who use microscope and crucible, and converts Frankenstein to his way of thinking. Symbolically, Frankenstein turns away from alchemy and the past towards science and the future -- and is rewarded with his horrible success.

The hints in the novel as to how the "vital spark" is imparted in the composite body are elusive. In her Introduction to the 1831 edition, however, the author reveals the origins of her story. Like The Castle of Otranto, it began with a dream. In the dream, she saw "the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion" [Introduction 10]. It was science fiction itself that stirred.

Greater events were stirring between the publication of the first and second editions of Frankenstein. The first volume of Lyell's Principles of Geology had just appeared, drastically extending the age of the Earth. Mantell and others were grubbing gigantic fossil bones out of the ground, exhuming genera from the rocks as surely as Frankenstein's creature was patched together from various corpses. Already beginning was that great extension to our imaginative lives which we call the Age of Reptiles -- those defunct monsters we have summoned back to vigorous existence.

Other references in the 1831 Introduction are to galvanism and electricity. The Preface to the first edition of 1818 is also instructive. Although Mary had set herself to write a ghost story, her intentions changed; she states expressly in the Preface, "I have not considered myself as merely weaving a series of supernatural terrors" [Preface 1]. The Preface is an apologia, and Mary Shelley's chief witness for her defence, mentioned in her first sentence, is Erasmus Darwin.

{25} The sources of Frankenstein are documented. As Mary Shelley explains, her dream was inspired by late-night conversations with her husband, with Byron, and with Dr. Polidori. Their talk was of vampires and the supernatural; Polidori supplied the company with some suitable reading material23; and Byron and Shelley also discussed Darwin, his thought and his experiments.24

Mary's dream of a hideous phantasm stirring to life carries a reminder of a nightmare recorded in her journal a year earlier. In March 1815, she had just lost her first baby, born prematurely. On the fifteenth of the month, she wrote: "Dream that my little baby came to life again; that it had only been cold, and that we had rubbed it before the fire, and it had lived." In retrospect, the words have an eerie ring.

The Outwardness of Science and society is balanced, in the novel, by an Inwardness which Mary's dream helped her to accommodate. This particular balance is perhaps one of Frankenstein's greatest merits: that its tale of exterior adventure and misfortune is always accompanied by a psychological depth.*g

As Mary was commencing her novel, Byron was exiling himself from England forever. He stayed at the Villa Diodati, on the shore of Lake Geneva, where John Milton had once stayed. The Shelley party was nearby. "Monk" Lewis also appeared, and read Byron Goethe's Faust, translating from the German as he went -- thus sowing the seeds of Byron's Manfred. As the Shelleys probably introduced Byron to Darwin's ideas about evolution and the future, he introduced them to the Prometheus Vinctus of Aeschylus. While at Diodati, Byron wrote his science fictional poem "Darkness," which is a sort of grim evolutionary vision. It too begins with a dream, or at least a hypnoid fantasy.

I had a dream which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air.
{26} Something of this grand gloom can be felt in Mary Shelley's novel.

Frankenstein is a unique book. We have noted its form; now to its ingredients.

In many respects it is typical of the Gothic novel, with descriptions of grandiose scenery, with fluttering sensibilities, with talk of charnel houses, mixed with elements of suspense. Yet it was born right in the heart and crucible of a great poetic movement -- and still remains some of that vital heat.

Theories of evolution would have been of particular interest to the young atheistic Shelley. If God did not have personal charge of creation, then might not man control it? In Shelley's wife's hands, the scientist takes on the role of creator. The concept of Frankenstein rests on the quasi-evolutionary idea that God is remote or absent from creation: man therefore is free to create his own sub-life; this was in accord with Erasmus Darwin's statement that evolution, once it had begun, continued to progress by its own inherent activity and so without divine intervention.

We can see that Erasmus Darwin thus stands as father figure over the first real science fiction novel.25 The Faustian theme is brought dramatically up to date, with science replacing supernatural machinery. Inside Mary Shelley's novel lie the seeds of all later diseased creation myths, including H. G. Wells' Island of Dr. Moreau, and the legions of robots from Capek's day forward.

The durability of the Frankenstein legend may be accounted for by the fact that it not only foreshadows many of our anxieties about the two-faced triumphs of scientific progress, it is the first novel to be powered by evolution, in that God -- however often called upon -- is an absentee landlord, and his lodgers scheme to take over the premises.

A parallel situation occurs in Shelley's lyrical drama Prometheus Unbound, composed while Mary was writing Frankenstein. Jupiter has chained Shelley's Prometheus to an icy rock. Prometheus suffers endless torture, but eventually is made free when Jupiter is dethroned and retires into obscurity.

Before looking at more personal themes in Frankenstein, some abstract themes warrant closer examination, in particular the religious one. Again, a precarious balance is preserved between old and new. Against Darwinism, Mary sets the established theology of John Milton's Paradise Lost. We know from Mary's journal that {27} Shelley read Paradise Lost aloud to her in 1816, and it is a quotation from that poem which stands on her title page.

The monster likens himself to Adam -- but how much less fortunate than Adam, for in this case the creator rushes away from "his odious handy work, horror-stricken." The creature's career roughly parallels Adam's, with the vital exception of the missing Eve: he is first created, and then brought to full intellectual awareness of the world in which he lives -- at which stage, a benevolence and generosity were ever present before me" (Chapter 15) -- and then undergoes his version of the Fall, "the spirit of revenge enkindled in my heart" (Chapter 16). Now the creature is frequently referred to as "the fiend." In many ways, it becomes less human, more a symbol of inhumanity. "I saw him," says Frankenstein, "descend the mountain with greater speed than the flight of an eagle, and quickly lost him among the undulations of the sea of ice" (Chapter 17).

The fiend increasingly refers to itself in Miltonic terms, saying of itself at last, over Victor's corpse, "the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil."

This change in the nature of the monster enables Mary Shelley to bring out two other aspects of the struggle which are subordinate to the religious theme.

The first is man's confrontation with himself, which the power of creation necessarily entails. The diseased creation myth becomes a Jekyll and Hyde situation, as Frankenstein struggles with his alter ego; their obsessive pursuit of one another makes sense only in these terms.

The second is the disintegration of society which follows man's arrogation of power. We see one perversion of the natural order leading to another. Frankenstein is loaded with a sense of corruption, and "the fiend" moves about the world striking where it will, like a disease which, beginning naturally enough in a charnel house, can be isolated and sterilised only on a drifting ice floe.

Here we confront the more personal side of the novel. The struggle between Victor and his fiend is Oedipal in nature. Like Andre Gide's Oedipus, the fiend seems to himself to have "welled out of the unknown": "Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come?" (Chapter 15), it asks itself. And the mixture of generations may reflect the confusion Mary Shelley felt over her own involved {28} family situation, surrounded by the half sisters of both her mother's earlier and father's later liaisons.

Some critics have read into the more macabre scenes of Frankenstein undertones of vampirism (a favourite with Lord Byron) and incest. "I shall be with you on your wedding night!" cries the creature to Victor. Sexual tensions move throughout the book. Incest comes nearest to the surface in the scene where Victor dismembers that hideous Eve, the female he is building for his macabre Adam. But incest was in fashion at the time, and not only as a reliable literary titillator: Byron and his dearest Augusta, his half sister, provided living examples close at hand. If Mary had read De Sade's novel Justine, as seems likely, she would find fathers raping and ruining their daughters,26 while in her husband's own verse-drama, The Cenci, the same theme holds court, and old Cenci rants over his daughter for all the world like one of the divine marquis's heroes when he cries

"I do not feel as if I were a man,
But like a fiend appointed to chastise
The of fences of some unremembered world . . .
My heart is beating with an expectation
Of horrid joy." (Act IV)
Algolagnia was certainly not absent from Mary's make-up. She wrote Frankenstein with her baby son William by her side; yet she makes the monster's first victim a little boy called William, Victor's younger brother. "I grasped his throat to silence him and in a moment he lay dead at my feet. I gazed at my victim, and my heart swelled with exhaltation [sic] and hellish triumph." Her little William ("Willmouse") died in the summer of 1819.

Mary was a complex person. She certainly had a deep understanding of Shelley, and their mutual passion was strong. One recent critic, Christopher Small, suggests that in Frankenstein's monster, Mary was portraying instinctively the two ideas of her husband27 -- the side that was all sweetness and light, and the charnel side, undoubtedly there if rarely seen.

The Faust theme of the novel, bereft of traditional celestial vengeance, degenerates into a gritty tale of hatred, pistols fired from open windows, and exhausting journeys without maps. The devils and the wrath of heaven have been banished, leaving only a {29} smouldering fear of nemesis and death's progress through the world, with no promise of afterlife.

If we compare Frankenstein with a precursor, Vathek, published some thirty years earlier, there too we find a Faustian moral: "Such shall be the chastisement of that blind curiosity, which would transgress those bounds the wisdom of the Creator has prescribed to human knowledge."*h To us, Frankenstein's transgression is infinitely more worthwhile than the calif's, just as the secret of life is so much more momentous a prize than the treasures of the pre-Adamite sultans. Frankenstein's prime error appears less blind curiosity than blind insensibility to suffering.

But the use of this modernised Faust theme is particularly suited to the first real novel of science fiction: Frankenstein is the modern theme, touching not only science but man's dual nature, whose inherited ape curiosity has brought him both success and misery. His great discovery apart, Frankenstein is a meddler and victim, staggering through a world where heavenly virtues are few (though the fiend reads of them). Instead of hope and forgiveness, there remain only the misunderstanding of men and the noxious half life of the monster. Knowledge brings no happiness.

For this critic's taste, the Frankenstein theme is more contemporary and more interesting than interstellar travel tales, since it takes us nearer to the enigma of man and thus of life, just as interstellar travel can yield more interest than such power-fantasy themes as telepathy.

Victor Frankenstein's last words are a feeble hope-against-hope injunction to Walton: "Farewell, Walton! Seek happiness in tranquility, and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries. Yet why do I say this? I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed." (Chapter 24) Some people never learn.

Frankenstein dies aboard Walton's ship; the ship is becalmed in the regions about the North Pole, stranded amid mist and ice in a manner designedly reminiscent of the Ancient Mariner. Walton first sights Frankenstein's monster in a sledge drawn by dogs -- "a being which had the shape of a man, but apparently of gigantic stat- {30} ure. . ." [Letter 4.1] -- with more than a reminder of the couplet from Darwin already quoted (see page 17). Legend has it that Mary, as a child, hid behind a sofa to listen to Coleridge reading his great poem.

The spirit of scientific enquiry remains subordinate to morbid obsession. Even while the modern Prometheus declares that "life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world" (Chapter 4), he is sinking into a shadowy state beyond reach of other human beings. "Now I was led to examine the cause and progress of this decay, and forced to spend days and nights in vaults and charnel houses. My attention was fixed on every object the most insupportable to the delicacy of human feelings. I saw how the fine form of man was degraded and wasted; I beheld the corruption of death succeed to the blooming cheek of life: I saw how the worm inherited the wonders of the eye and brain." (Chapter 4)

Darwin puts the state of mind succinctly in Canto IV of his Temple of Nature:

There writhing Mania sits on Reason's throne,
Or Melancholy makes it for her own,
Sheds o'er the scene a voluntary gloom,
Requests oblivion, and demands the tomb . . .
Frankenstein solves the riddle of the Sphinx. It brings him torment and death, just as it did Oedipus.

Frankenstein is a triumph of imagination: more than a new story, a new myth. Laboured though parts of it may be, its effect as a science fiction morality is no less powerful today than when it was written, surrounded as we are with so many fiends of our own designing. Yet it is appropriate that its closing words should be ". . . lost in darkness and distance" [Walton 17]. Science fiction is so often haunted by a sense of corruption. We can never entirely escape the aromas of Frankenstein's "workshop of filthy creation." (Chapter 4)

When we turn to the next great figure in the history of science fiction, we find again an emphasis on incest, darkness, fear, and "the tremendous secrets of the human frame."

Charles Darwin's Origin of Species was published in 1859, when its theories gradually won the widest acceptance and its facts had the maximum impact. But those facts and theories were already making their way in the world in Charles Darwin's grandfather's time. {31} They would grow to influence many aspects of human life. They begin to make themselves felt in Frankenstein.

After Frankenstein, a pause: not in the larger world of literature but in the infant one of science fiction. The idea of looking to the future was yet to be praperly born in anything but a religious sense. Such writings as there were about the future tended to be of a political or satirical nature, such as the anonymous pamphlet One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty-Nine, published in 1819, which attacked the claims for Catholic emancipation and predicted the restoration of the Stuart kings in 1829.

Mary Shelley wrote other novels, none as successful as Frankenstein. Some, like Valperga (1823) are pure Gothic. But a word should be said of The Last Man (1826), published anonymously, as Frankenstein had been.

The Last Man bears on its title page a suitably forbidding motto culled from Milton:

Let no man seek
Henceforth to be foretold what shall befall
Him or his children.
It is the story of Lionel Verney, and set towards the end of the twenty-first century. The king of England has abdicated, bowing to the popular wish, and his son, Adrian, now known as the Earl of Windsor, befriends Verney. Verney's father was a favourite of the king's, but fell from favour, since when Verney has "wandered among the hills of civilised England as uncouth as a savage." He is converted to finer feelings by the friendship with Adrian.

Enter Lord Raymond, a youthful peer of genius and beauty. The date is A.D. 2073, but the Turks are still lording it over the Greeks; Raymond eventually becomes commander of the Greek Army, and besieges Constantinople.

This much, with many complications concerning the various sisters and mothers of the various parties, occupies the first third of the narrative. A modern reader finds his way through it only by recalling that Mary was drawing portraits of people she knew, Shelley being Adrian, Byron Raymond, and Claire Claremont, Perdita, Verney's sister. Several of the infants are also identifiable. None of them has quite as much life and credibility as Frankenstein's creature.

The Roman à clef involvement is partly abandoned when Con- {32} stantinople falls to the besiegers. They walk in unopposed, Raymond at their head. The defenders have died of plague: the city is empty.

With the introduction of the plague, the narrative gains pace, dire events and forebodings of worse flock one after the other.

What are we, the inhabitants of this globe, least among the many that people infinite space? Our minds embrace infinity; the visible mechanism of our being is subject to merest accident. (Volume 2, Chapter 5)
Raymond is killed by falling masonry, Perdita commits suicide by drowning. The plague spreads all over the world, so that "the vast cities of America, the fertile plains of Hindostan, the crowded abodes of the Chinese, are menaced with utter ruin." (Volume 2, Chapter 5)

Back in Windsor, Verney fears for his wife and children, although refugees from plague-stricken spots are allowed to find shelter within the castle walls; the parks are ploughed to provide food for everyone. Adrian is working for the general good in London, where plague has secured a footing. After helping him, Verney returns to Windsor, to find plague in the castle.

Death, cruel and relentless, had entered these beloved walls. . . . [Later] quiet prevailed in the Castle, whose inhabitants were hushed to repose. I was awake, and during the long hours of dead night, my busy thoughts worked in my brain like ten thousand mill-wheels, rapid, acute, untameable. All slept -- all England slept; and from my window, commanding a wide prospect of the star-illumined country, I saw the land stretched out in placid rest. I was awake, alive, while the brother of death possessed my race. (Chapter 7)
Winter halts the deaths. Next summer brings renewed onslaughts, and England is invaded by hordes of Americans and Irish -- an invasion force which Adrian quells with peaceful talk. Adrian and Verney eventually lead the few English who survive from England to France. By then, one of Verney's sons is dead, and his wife dies during a snowstorm.

After various celestial manifestations, and a certain amount of trouble at Versailles, fifty survivors, their numbers still dwindling, move southwards from Dijon. Mary Shelley leaves not a wither un- {33} wrung. "Images of destruction, pictures of despair, the procession of the last triumph of death, shall be drawn before thee," she warns her gentle reader.

Adrian and Verney, with two children, Clara and little Evelyn, reach Italy. Typhus claims Evelyn by Lake Como. The three survivors find nobody else alive. The country is desolate. They reach Venice, only to find it ruinous and slowly sinking under the lagoon.

Prompted by Adrian's whim to see Greece again, they set sail down the Adriatic. A storm rises, the boat sinks, they plunge into the water -- and eventually Verney flings himself ashore, alone. He is the last man alive.

After indulging in some bitter comparisons between his state and Robinson Crusoe's, he makes for the Eternal City (where Shelley's ashes lay buried). Still he meets with nobody. In Rome, he gluts himself with Rome's treasures, wandering in its art galleries and its libraries, until settling down to write his history.

Our last glimpse of Verney is when he sets out with a dog for company to sail south through the Mediterranean, down the African coast, towards the odorous islands of the far Indian Ocean.

Although Mary Shelley's temperament responded to this gloomy theme, The Last Man is no more than Gothic. Its pretence of being set in the future is soon dropped. There are few innovations in her world, apart from steerable balloons. The abdication of the king in favour of a socialistic regime is certainly a novelty (though no more than a pallid reflection of the French Revolution and her father's thinking) but, even there, the introduction of a Lord Protector carries us, not forward, but back to Cromwell's time; while the backward-lookingness is reinforced, not only by the wicked Turks, but by pictures of London which derive strongly from Defoe, who is mentioned in the text. More tellingly, although Mary had an undoubted interest in science,28 her characters are as powerless against the plague as any citizens facing the Black Death in the fifteenth century. Vaccination was common by the eighteen-twenties, yet Mary makes no extrapolations from it.

Despite these failures to depict anything like a credible future, which of course are more apparent now than they were to Mary Shelley's audience in 1826, there remains the fact that she chose to set her fiction far away in the future, as if feeling that a distance of over two-and-a-half centuries in some way lent ad- {34} ditional grandeur to her grand theme. This belief has influenced writers since, though they may not recall -- as doubtless Mary did -- that passage Shelley wrote, in which, referring to poets as the unacknowledged legislators of the world, he also called them "the heirophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle and feel not what they inspire. . . ."29 In this novel, Mary Shelley frequently becomes a poet in exactly Shelley's sense.

More prosaically, once one has struggled through to Constantinople, the novel presents a tremendously effective suspense element. It is more competent in this than several Gothic novels which have since been reprinted; while, among many passages of tedious moralising and rhapsodising, there are splendid purple patches, not least the scene in which the storm springs up and Adrian is drowned, and the dream in which Raymond's body becomes the pestilence.30 Here to perfection is Burke's "delightful horror."

The gloom of The Last Man is also striking -- and often strikingly expressed. Here is Raymond speaking to Lionel.

You are of this world; I am not. You hold forth your hand; it is even as a part of yourself; and you do not yet divide the feeling of identity from the mortal form that shapes forth Lionel. How then can you understand me? Earth is to me a tomb, the firmament a vault, shrouding mere corruption. Time is no more, for I have stepped within the threshold of eternity; each man I meet appears a corse, which will soon be deserted of its animating spark, on the eve of decay and corruption. (Volume 2, Chapter 2)
Here, the thinking behind Frankenstein has grown like a cancer in Mary Shelley's mind, until revulsions that once were applied merely to a freakish monster now infest the whole human race; it is the race, rather than the individual, which is hunted down to exile and extinction. If only Mary had been a great writer instead of merely a good one! What a sombre masterpiece she could have given us!

Overshadowed by her husband's reputation, her writing has been too greatly neglected. Her story "Matilda" was not published until 1959.31 It was written after the death of "Willmouse," Matilda feels an incestuous love for her father, which is returned. The fa- {35} ther disappears, full of guilt. Matilda has a prophetic dream that he may have drowned. She searches for him frantically on the sea-coast. "Let him be alive! It is all dark: in my abject misery I demand no more: no hope, no good: only passion and guilt and horror; but alive!"

It is all three Brontë sisters in one! Even more, it presages what would happen three years later, when Mary drove desperately to see if her beloved Shelley had survived the sea.

That drowning echoes back and forth in Mary's life. She seems to have had some genuine prophetic talent.

The sea appears again in another neglected story, "The Transformation," to which no commentator has drawn due attention. It throws singular light on the events of Frankenstein's wedding night.

"The Transformation" appeared first in one of the Keepsakes or Annuals which the early Victorians enjoyed. It was collected together with others of Mary's stories and reprinted with an introduction by Richard Garnett in 1891.

The story is set in Italy. Guido is a dissolute and wealthy young man, betrothed to Juliet until his evil behaviour becomes too much for her.

He has behaved as one possessed. Now he is destitute and wanders along the seashore. He reaches a particularly desolate promontory when a storm breaks. Guido witnesses a ship dashed against a rock and sunk; all aboard are drowned except one man.

He comes ashore. It is not a man but a dwarf, misshapen, a monster -- and a magician. Guido and the magician strike a bargain. For three days, they will change bodies. Guido's poverty, exile, and disgrace shall also belong to the dwarf. In exchange, Guido will receive a chest full of money.

Dwarf-as-Guido departs. A week passes and he does not return. Guido-as-dwarf walks to Genoa, to find it full of festivity. Tomorrow, dwarf-as-Guido will marry Juliet!

It is the night before the wedding. Juliet is at her window, whispering Guido's name to the impostor, who stands outside.

The dwarfish shape springs from the shadows and thrusts his dagger towards Guido's throat. They struggle. The present Guido says, "Strike home! Destroy this body -- you will still live."

At the words, Guido-as-dwarf falters, and his opponent draws a sword. As the opponent thrusts, Guido-as-dwarf throws himself {36} on the point, at the same time plunging his dagger into the other's side.

When Guido comes to, he is in his own body once more and the dwarf is dead. Juliet tends him lovingly. He has to live remembering that it was the monstrous dwarf who won back Juliet's love, and that the creature she now reviles was himself.

This remarkable treatment of a doppelganger theme lies close to Frankenstein. Perhaps both stories express the struggle Mary felt in her own nature between the light and the dark. We can also see that Shelley's death must have seemed to her like her own.

It is all too appropriate that Mary Shelley's work should be neglected. Science fiction has been similarly neglected until recently. As the standing of Mary's reputation is still in the balance, so is science fiction's.

Sufficient at present to point to her solid merits, and the way in which some of her sparklingly dark scenes carry us back to such dramatists as Webster and Tourneur and forward to the Edgar Allan Poe of The Masque of the Red Death.

Poe, indeed, is the next considerable writer of science fiction to emerge: another spiritual exile, who can say with Mary's Byronic Raymond, "Earth is to me a tomb!"


*a. Nevertheless, one admires the boldness of Miriam Allen de Ford's dictum, "Science fiction deals with improbable possibilities, fantasy with plausible impossibilities" (in her Foreword to Elsewhere, Elsewhen, Elsehow).

*b. This volume will use the term "science fiction" (and the abbreviation "sf"), a widely preferred usage to the hyphenated "science-fiction." Perhaps unease at the ungrammatical distortion of having a noun do duty as adjective has led to the fashion for abbreviating the term in a number of ways: SF, sf, sci-fi, sci-fic, si-fi, si-fic. Only would-be trendies use sci-fi.

*c. Doubtless, it was in the 1950s that science fiction earned itself the still adhesive label of "space fiction."

*d. In contradiction of the then-accepted view, established by Bishop James Ussher in the seventeenth century, that God performed the act of creation in the year 4004 B.C., probably about breakfast time.

*e. Perhaps the first painting to meet Burke's definition is George Stubbs' White Horse Frightened by a Lion (1770), a masterpiece containing beauty and sublimity. Stubbs was a capable scientist as well as a masterly animal painter.

*f. The cinema has helped enormously to disseminate the myth while destroying its significance. Not long after its original publication, Frankenstein was made into a play, performed with great success until the nineteen-thirties. By that time, the cinema had moved in. There were short silent versions, but the monster began his true movie career in 1931, with James Whale's Universal picture Frankenstein, in which Boris Karloff played the monster. The dials in the castle laboratory have hardly stopped flickering since. The monster has spawned Sons, Daughters, Ghosts, and Houses; has taken on Brides and created Woman; has perforce shacked up with Dracula and Wolf Man; has enjoyed Evil, Horror, and Revenge, and has even had the Curse; on one occasion, it met Abbott and Costello.

*g. Mary might have said of her drama what Shelley said of Prometheus Bound: "The imagery which I have employed will be found, in many instances, to have been drawn from the operations of the human mind, or from those external actions by which they are expressed." (Shelley's Preface to Prometheus Bound.)

*h. Later, this judgement would be echoed, although in twentieth-century English, in the closing scenes of several science-horror films: "There are secrets in nature whith which man should not meddle!"

1. H. G. Wells, Preface to The Scientific Romances, 1933.

2. Darko Suvin, Od Lukijana Do Lunika, Zagreb, 1965.

3. For instance, Roger Lancelyn Green, Into Other Worlds, 1957.

4. Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Voyages to the Moon, New York, 1949.

5. The Essential Writings of Erasmus Darwin, chosen and edited with linking commentary by Desmond King-Hele, 1968. References to Darwin in relation to the exploration of the South Seas are contained in Bernard Smith's European Vision and the South Pacific 1768-1850, 60.

6. See Desmond King-Hele's study, Erasmus Darwin, 1963.

7. Alethea Hayter, Opium and the Romantic Imagination, 1968.

8. Horace Walpole: Letter to the Reverend William Cole, Strawberry Hill, Mar. 9, 1765. Explaining to Cole how he came to write Castle of Otranto, he says, "Shall I even confess to you, what was the origin of this romance! I waked one morning, in the beginning of last June, from a dream, of which, all I could recover was, that I had thought myself in an ancient castle (a very natural dream for a head filled like mine with Gothic story), and that on the uppermost bannister of a great staircase I saw a gigantic hand in armour. In the evening I sat down, and began to write, without knowing in the least what I intended to say or relate . . ."

9. Piranesi engraved his Carceri in Rome in 1745, heralding the whole Romantic movement or certainly its gloomier side. For the lighter side, one would have to turn to the etchings of another Italian, the Venetian G. B. Tiepolo, whose Capricci appeared at almost the same time as Piranesi's Carceri. In these pictures, mysterious figures talk or wait among mysterious ruins; in a later series, the Scherzi di fantasia, the beautiful people are surrounded by magic and death, although they are still bathed in Tiepolo's glorious light.

10. For further details, consult, for instance, Margaret Dalzier's Popular Fiction 100 Years Ago, 1957.

11. The most interesting point about Peacock is how readable his best novels remain. Gryll Grange, published when the author was seventy-five, is an especially delightful satire on progress in Victorian days, with the Reverend Dr. Opimian representing a churlish anti-scientific view-point which sounds less strange in our time than it must have done in the 1860s: "The day would fail, if I should attempt to enumerate the evils which science has inflicted on mankind. I almost think it is the ultimate destiny of science to exterminate the human race." (Chap. 19)

12. A fine example is Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969.

13. H. Beam Piper, Temple Trouble, 1951.

14. H. B. Fyfe, Protected Species, 1951.

15. A. E. van Vogt, Asylum, 1942.

16. F. L. Wallace, Big Ancestor, 1954.

17. Some while before Ward Moore's novel appeared, a volume was published called If, or History Rewritten, edited by J. C. Squire, New York, 1931, which is full of alternative universes dreamed up by scholars and historians. One of the most interesting is Winston Churchill's "If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg." In England, the volume is entitled If It Had Happened Otherwise, and was reprinted in 1972.

18. Shelley, Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, Stanza 5.

19. Edward John Trelawny, Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron, 1858.

20. The standard biography of Mary Shelley remains R. Glynn Grylls' Mary Shelley: A Biography, 1938. It is well documented. More lively is the portrait in Eileen Bigland's Mary Shelley, 1959.

21. The point is made with clarity in Miss J. M. S. Tompkins' book The Popular Novel in England, 1770-7800, 1961. "What their authors aimed at -- at least, the best of them -- was delicacy and variety of emotional hue. The novel was to be a sort of artificial rainbow, woven of tears and glinting sunshine, but allowing, at times, of more violent contrasts." (Chap. 9)

22. "In its erection of a superstructure of fantasy on a foundation of circumstantial 'scientific' fact . . . it is the first of the Scientific Romances that have culminated in our day in the work of Mr H. G. Wells; in this, as in its suggestion of deeper psychological and sociological implications underlying the story, Frankenstein marks an advance on the crude horror of the Radcliffe-Monk Lewis school." R. Glynn Grylls, op. cit.

23. It would be interesting to know if Polidori supplied a copy of De Sade's Gothic fantasy Justine, published in 1791. There is a Justine in Frankenstein, wrongfully imprisoned, and "gazed on and execrated by thousands" -- a very De Sade-like situation; though innocent, she perishes on the scaffold. Mario Praz indicates this parallel in The Romantic Agony; 1933. Curiously enough, De Sade's Justine perishes by lightning, the force that brings life to Frankenstein's creation in the James Whale film.

24. There is some discussion of this point by M. K. Joseph, in his excellent edition of Frankenstein, published in the Oxford English Novels series, 1969.

25. Credit for this observation goes to Desmond King-Hele, in his grand works of Darwinian restoration already cited. He provides plenty of evidence of Darwin's influence on the poets of his time, Shelley in particular.

26. While in Juliette, Saint-Fond cries, "Quelle jouisance! J'étais couvert de malédictions, d'imprécations, je parricidais, j'incestais, j'assassinais, je prostituais, je sodomisais!"

27. Christopher Small, Ariel Like a Harpy: Shelley, Mary, and "Frankenstein," 1972.

28. Mary contributed lives of "Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of Italy, Spain, and Portugal" and of "Eminent Literary and Scientific Men in France" to The Cabinet Cyclopaedia for 1835 and 1838 respectively.

29. Shelley, The Defence of Poetry, 1821.

30. This prodromic nightmare is presented in somewhat fustian style but in its intention -- to disturb by presenting familiar objects out of context -- it is surrealist. Verney has found the beloved Lord Raymond dead in the ruins of plague-stricken Constantinople, and falls asleep:

"I awoke from disturbed dreams. Methought I had been invited to Timon's last feast: I came with keen appetite, the covers were removed, the hot water sent up its satisfying streams, while I fled before the anger of the host, who assumed the form of Raymond; while to my diseased fancy, the vessels hurled by him after me were surcharged with fetid vapour, and my friend's shape, altered by a thousand distortions, expanded into a gigantic phantom, bearing on its brow the sign of pestilence. The growing shadow rose and rose, filling, and then seeming to endeavour to burst beyond the adamantine vault that bent over, sustaining and enclosing the world. The nightmare became torture; with a strong effort I threw off sleep, and recalled reason to her wonted functions." (The Last Man, Vol. 2, Chap. 3)
Mary Shelley uses the same device just before Victor Frankenstein wakes to find his "miserable monster" has come to life. There again, the dream is of someone loved (in this case his fiancee) transformed into a symbol of horror and disgust:
"I slept indeed, but I was disturbed by the wildest dreams. I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingoldstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel. I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed. . ." (Frankenstein, Chap. 5)
For anyone compiling an anthology of evil dreams, Mary Shelley is essential reading.

31. Edited by Elizabeth Mitchie in Studies in Philology, Extra Series, No. 3.