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Write an Analysis on Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, chapters 17-24

E N G I N E E R S , A N D C R E AT O R S
© 2017 David H. Guston, Ed Finn, and Jason Scott Robert
Corrected 1818 text of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein © Charles E. Robinson
Title Page of the First Edition of Frankenstein, 1818 (litho), English School (19th century)/
New York Public Library, USA /Bridgeman Images
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical
means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in
writing from the publisher.
This book was set in Century Schoolbook Pro and PF DIN Pro by The MIT Press. Book design by
Marge Encomienda. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, 1797–1851, author. | Guston, David H., 1965- editor. |
Finn, Ed, 1980- editor. | Robert, Jason Scott, 1972- editor.
Title: Frankenstein : annotated for scientists, engineers, and creators of
all kinds / Mary Shelley ; edited by David H. Guston, Ed Finn, and Jason Scott Robert.
Description: Cambridge, MA : The MIT Press, 2017. | Includes bibliographical references.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016041014 | ISBN 9780262533287 (pbk. : alk. paper)
Subjects: LCSH: Frankenstein, Victor (Fictitious character)–Fiction. |
Frankenstein’s Monster (Fictitious character)–Fiction. |
Scientists–Fiction. | Monsters–Fiction. | Horror fiction. | Science
fiction. | Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, 1797-1851. Frankenstein. |
Science in literature.
Classification: LCC PR5397 .F7 2017 | DDC 823/.7–dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.
For Sam and his enthusiasm and patience—Dave Guston
For Anna and our beloved monsters, Nora and Declan—Ed Finn
For three very well-parented creatures: Annika, Astrid, and Alexandra—Jason Robert
And to the memory of our friend and colleague Charles E. Robinson.
Charlie’s scholarship and generosity were crucial to this volume,
as to so much of the prior study of Frankenstein. We hope through his work
presented here, among the last of his completed before his death,
that his knowledge, wisdom, and gentility will reach a new generation
of readers.
Editors’ Preface . xi
Acknowledgments . xxi
Introduction by Charles E. Robinson . xxiii
Introduction to Frankenstein (1831) . 189
Chronology of Science and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley . 195
Traumatic Responsibility: Victor Frankenstein as
Creator and Casualty . 201
by Josephine Johnston
I’ve Created a Monster! (And So Can You) . 209
by Cory Doctorow
Changing Conceptions of Human Nature . 215
by Jane Maienschein and Kate MacCord
Undisturbed by Reality: Victor Frankenstein’s Technoscientific
Dream of Reason . 223
by Alfred Nordmann
Frankenstein Reframed; or, The Trouble with Prometheus . 231
by Elizabeth Bear
Frankenstein, Gender, and Mother Nature . 239
by Anne K. Mellor
The Bitter Aftertaste of Technical Sweetness . 247
by Heather E. Douglas
References . 255
Further Reading . 261
Discussion Questions . 263
Contributors . 275
D AV I D H . G U S T O N , E D F I N N , A N D J A S O N S C O T T R O B E R T
No work of literature has done more to shape the way humans imagine
science and its moral consequences than Frankenstein; or The Modern
Prometheus, Mary Shelley’s remarkably enduring tale of creation and
responsibility. Frankenstein is the literary offspring of an eighteen-yearold girl ensconced in a romantic yet fraught summer getaway on the shores
of Lake Geneva in response to a “dare” to come up with a ghost story.
That dare was issued a little more than two hundred years ago. In writing
Frankenstein, Mary produced both in the creature and in its creator tropes
that continue to resonate deeply with contemporary audiences. Moreover,
these tropes and the imaginations they engender actually influence the
way we confront emerging science and technology, conceptualize the process of scientific research, imagine the motivations and ethical struggles of
scientists, and weigh the benefits of scientific research against its anticipated and unforeseen pitfalls.
The world will celebrate the bicentennial of Frankenstein’s publication
on 1 January 2018. Arizona State University (ASU) will be the epicenter
of this celebration of the power of literature, science, art, imagination, and
ingenuity. ASU’s Frankenstein Bicentennial Project is a constructive, intellectual, and public endeavor meant to celebrate Frankenstein’s pervasive
influence on contemporary culture and scientific research. With funding
from the US National Science Foundation (NSF Award no. 1516684), we are
producing a citizen-curated, digital narrative experience of Frankenstein
and Frankensteiniana in collaboration with dozens of museums and other
partners. Our goal is to understand the galvanizing power of Frankenstein
to stoke the public imagination and to harness that energy to ignite new
conversations about creativity and responsibility among science and technology researchers, students, and the public. We hope these conversations
will inspire a deeper understanding of how to govern science and technology responsibly. We believe Frankenstein is a book that can encourage us
to be both thoughtful and hopeful: having these conversations can help all
of us make better decisions about how to shape and understand scientific
research and technical innovation in ways that support our well-considered values and ambitions.
Mary Shelley’s landmark fusion of science, ethics, and literary expression provides an opportunity both to reflect on how science is framed and
understood by the public and to contextualize new scientific and technological innovations, especially in an era of synthetic biology, genome editing,
robotics, machine learning, and regenerative medicine. Although Frankenstein is infused with the exhilaration of seemingly unbounded human
creativity, it also prompts serious reflection about our individual and
collective responsibility for nurturing the products of our creativity and
imposing constraints on our capacities to change the world around us.
Engaging with Frankenstein allows a broad public and especially future
scientists and engineers to consider the history of our scientific progress
together with our expanding abilities in the future and to reflect on evolving understandings of the responsibilities such abilities entail.
This critical edition of Frankenstein for scientists and engineers is—like
the creature himself—the first of its kind and just as monstrous in its
composition and development. Originally proposed by our colleague Cajsa
Baldini in ASU’s Department of English, the skeleton of the critical edition
was fleshed out at a workshop at ASU in the spring of 2014, hosted by two
of us (Guston and Finn) and funded by the NSF (NSF Award no. 1354287)
to explore science-and-society projects that might be built around Frankenstein). Robert served as scribe in breakout sessions dedicated to fleshing
out the critical edition, which also included Baldini, historian Catherine
O’Donnell, and representatives from the ASU Libraries, a local high school,
and the larger community. We then sent copies of Frankenstein to professors
and students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)
fields and asked them to identify key terms and passages requiring elucidation and elaboration for STEM students from high school to graduate
school. We received almost one thousand suggestions! And so the editorial
work began in earnest.
In the spring of 2015, still working with NSF funding, we brought together
a small group of advisers to discuss both a print version and an immersive digital version of an annotated Frankenstein. One key contributor was
Charles E. Robinson, emeritus professor at the University of Delaware and
one of the world’s leading scholars of Frankenstein. Robinson graciously
offered us the opportunity to use his painstakingly line-edited and amended
version of the original manuscript published in 1818 as our core text. The
workshop yielded a strong sense of what distinguishes our critical edition
from previous ones, which have dwelt on the novel’s literary or historical
importance, addressing it as representative of romanticism or the gothic.
Other volumes have focused on the science or ethics of Frankenstein or
both, but they have been either critical anthologies or otherwise engaged
with the novel in a secondary fashion. We wanted our version to be unique
in bringing together the primary text and annotations and short essays
by a diverse group of experts. This juxtaposition will allow STEM readers
to explore critical understandings of the ethical and societal dimensions
Editors’ Preface
of scientific inquiry in the immediate company of Victor Frankenstein, his
creature, and a gripping narrative of creativity and responsibility.1 Rather
than focusing on the specifics of the science and what Mary Shelley got or
did not get right,2 our version (although including some such discussion)
emphasizes broader questions of the scientific endeavor, the roles of scientists, and the relationship between scientific creativity and responsibility.
With the serial and at times massively parallel assistance of Valerye
Milleson, Mary Drago, and Joey Eschrich, we vetted the lengthy list of suggested annotations and then solicited, assigned, collected, edited, amplified,
truncated, massaged, and merged the annotations into the far-ranging
critical conversation composing this volume. We also identified key themes
to be highlighted in longer essays—including creativity, imagination, monstrosity, angst, responsibility, and the roles of gender in Frankenstein and
in science and engineering—and commissioned essays from leading scholars
and writers at ASU, across the United States, and around the world. The
end result, we believe, is an edition of Frankenstein that incites a deeply
engaging cross-disciplinary exploration of the complexities of the development of personal and professional identity and of the rightful place of
science and scientists in our rapidly changing world.
In organizing and editing this material, we were faced with innumerable
decisions about style and content. Upon reflection, perhaps the most consequential are the naming conventions we have adopted. First, we have
decided to refer to the author and her main protagonist simply as Mary
and Victor wherever possible. We do not wish to diminish them with this
familiarity, but we do wish precisely to render them more familiar. Mary
was eighteen years old when she began to set her ideas to paper. Victor was
a young man, still very much a student. Both of them are more like you,
the reader, in that sense than like us. We want you to see them more as
colleagues, classmates, and maybe even as friends rather than as a distant
contributor to the literary canon and the maniacal character she devised.
Recognizing—as many have before us, from the author of Genesis to
Mary herself—that to name something is to assert some measure of creative
power over it, we have decided to attempt to consistently identify Victor’s
creation as “the creature.” We do this for several reasons, foremost among
them to allow readers to determine for themselves whether the appellations
daemon (frequently used in the text) and monster (most often used in posterity) are appropriate. For us, creature is a more neutral, descriptive, and
pedagogically appropriate denomination.
Editors’ Preface 
It is worth pointing out that the way we now use the word creature
ignores a richer etymology. Today, we refer to birds and bees as creatures.
Living things are creatures by virtue of their living-ness. When we call
something a creature today, we rarely think in terms of something that
has been created, and thus we erase the idea of a creator behind the creature. We have likewise lost the social connotation of the term creature, for
creatures are made not just biologically (or magically) but also socially. In
the contemporary film Victor Frankenstein (2015), for example, Harry Potter’s
Daniel Radcliffe plays Igor—Victor’s hunchback assistant not present in
Mary’s novel but invented for stage and screen—who is rescued from a
circus, cured of his malformation, and embraced by Victor first as assistant
and then as partner in his laboratory. Victor raises him from a subhuman existence, even giving him the name “Igor” because the freak-show
hunchback has no name, and makes him an English gentleman worthy of
invitations to clubs and balls and even the affection of a beautiful woman.
Igor understands that he is Victor’s creature in this regard, just as surely
as if his life were created from nonlife. So to recognize both the biological
and the social aspects of creation—as well as the failure of Mary’s Victor to
name his creation, thus rejecting the creature’s social creation—we have
decided on “the creature.” So Mary, Victor, and the creature constitute the
trinity of our text.
We also want to reflect on the fact that we are a trio of roughly middleaged guys potentially appropriating Mary’s work. Although changing the
biological aspects of our identities for the purposes of this volume is not
really an option, we can consider what it was like for us to confront issues
of gender in Frankenstein and raise these issues for ourselves and for our
readers. First, we must emphasize again that although the idea for the
Frankenstein Bicentennial Project came from one of us, the idea for this
volume came from our colleague Cajsa Baldini. As a lecturer in English
at ASU, Cajsa is in a more vulnerable academic position than we are (two
of us are tenured, one is on the tenure track). She had the further burden,
familiar to many women, of family medical challenges that ultimately
caused her to pass the project to us. Without her creative spark, this project
would never have existed, and we are grateful for her blessing and her
willingness to allow us to pursue the work in her stead.
It may be difficult for some readers, especially those accustomed to
living the relatively privileged life of the white male, to recognize how hard
it was for Mary to write and publish this book as a young woman without
money or the support of her family (with the exception of her husband, the
poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was just as much an outcast as she was).
Editors’ Preface
When the first edition appeared in 1818, it listed no author, and some
reviewers and readers assumed Percy was the real architect of the narrative. Several reviewers who knew the truth found it deeply alarming: the
British Critic blamed the flaws it perceived in the text on the gender of its
author, brutally ending its review by saying, “The writer of it is, we understand, a female; this is an aggravation of that which is the prevailing fault
of the novel; but if our authoress can forget the gentleness of her sex, it is
no reason why we should; and we shall therefore dismiss the novel without
further comment” (“Review of Frankenstein” 1818). It was only one of the
many times Mary was excluded from consideration because of her gender
and her unconventional choices.
We can also speak of what it was like to learn from Mary because any
failure on our part to acknowledge the sheer brilliance of her composition,
its heritage and its progeny, its intricacies and its clarion vision, would
be a failure as colossal as Victor’s failure to acknowledge the intelligence
of his creature—except that we are Mary’s creatures and not the other
way around. As university teachers, we know—but we do not always show—
that our students have things to teach us. We do not labor under the misapprehension that we are bringing very much at all to Mary; rather, our
hope is to bring Mary more clearly and powerfully to you. This endeavor
requires, as we hope we have done through the invited essays and annotations, the recognition that Mary was not just an interesting writer but
also a powerful thinker. Her parents—the feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, who died as a consequence of Mary’s birth, and the similarly
radical political philosopher William Godwin—provided her with the raw
material. Tales of her intensive tutoring bring to mind that imposed by
other nineteenth-century tiger fathers such as James Mill, who in educating
John Stuart Mill produced a nervous breakdown in his son before producing a political theorist who surpassed him. Turning gender roles around,
Mary did not turn inward and anxious but instead turned outward and
rebellious. Sixteen-year-old Mary ran off with Percy from England to continental Europe, returning shortly after only to run off again on the jaunt
that led to her to imagine Frankenstein. Mary was doing drugs (laudanum, a
powdered opiate) and became pregnant by a man who was at the time married to someone else: if she had turned up at ASU or any other school, she
would have been labeled an “at-risk student” and targeted for intervention.
And the risks she faced were significant. By the time Mary began writing Frankenstein, she had already become a mother and lost a child. Little
Clara arrived two months early in February 1815, only to die two weeks
later, to Mary’s harrowing sorrow. Mary wrote later of a “waking dream”
Editors’ Preface 
that inspired Frankenstein in which she managed to revive baby Clara by
moving her closer to the fire and nursing her to health. Mary would give
birth to four children in all and bury three of them. Throughout Mary’s life,
birth and death were intimately connected. The themes of parenthood and
responsibility in Frankenstein, of lost creatures and dead children, were
visceral experiences for Mary. Among its many faces, Frankenstein was a
very personal ghost story for its author.
After Frankenstein was published, Mary’s life was perhaps even more
challenging. She lost two other children, largely because of traveling with
them across Europe in precarious conditions for the sake of her beloved
Percy, and then she lost him, too, when he drowned in Italy at the age of
twenty-nine. A less-resilient heroine of novels of Mary’s time might have
followed Percy to the grave by her own hand. Mary persisted. And just as
we are in the thrall of her intellectual power, we are in awe of her resilience and emotional strength.3
The questions of gender and marginality come to the fore in several of
the essays we have collected in this volume, specifically in the contributions
by scholar Anne K. Mellor and fiction writer Elizabeth Bear. We subscribe
to the idea that only Mary, with her bodily experience and embodied wisdom, could have written Frankenstein with such profundity. Indeed, questions about Mary’s authorship persisted even after her name as author
was first revealed; later critics supposed that it was really Percy’s work,
as if Mary could not have done it. To be sure, Percy contributed a great
deal. But if you have visited the manuscript and fair copy at the Bodleian
Library at the University of Oxford and been given a brilliant tour of its
revelatory details by Bruce Barker-Benfield (as one of us has), you can see
exactly how she did it—the dynamics of love and creativity played out in
the looping flow of Mary’s authorial hand and the angular interjections of
Percy’s editorial additions. This book by a young woman who would spend
hours reading literature, philosophy, and history by her mother’s grave,
who was cut off by her father when she fled to Europe with Percy, and who
lost a child of her own at seventeen is singular. No one else before or since
could have written Frankenstein with the same combination of intellectual
breadth, moral depth, and intense personal experience.
We also feel it is important to make the case for bringing Mary, Victor, and
the creature into the heart of conversations about contemporary science
and technology. Of course, it is a privilege to engage with one of the most
influential and widely assigned (if not as widely read) novels in the
Editors’ Preface
English language and one that has inspired so many high and low cultural
expressions. That fecundity reveals something important about this story:
Frankenstein is unequivocally not an antiscience screed, and scientists and
engineers should not be afraid of it. The target of Mary’s literary insight is
not so much the content of Victor’s science as the way he pursues it. This
target is the same in much of science fiction—a genre that Mary certainly
helped to invent—especially the kind that takes a dystopian turn.4 We can
choose to focus on the cautionary nature of the tale or on the part that
continues to inspire students who believe that they can do better—as
creative and responsible thinkers, makers, researchers, and citizens.
Since Mary’s day, science and technology have become more pervasive
in society. (We will demur from saying which society was changing faster,
Mary’s under steam power or ours under solar, nuclear, and computational power.) As we anticipate the third century beyond Mary’s vision, we
open the door to what may be the most pervasive scientific and technical
endeavors yet: the creation and design of living organisms through techniques of synthetic biology, the creation and design of planetary-scale systems through climate engineering, and the integration of computational
power and processes into nearly every sector of global society and even
the fibers of our being. These technologies, radically different from each
other in scale and materials, share a Promethean perspective. Each fuses
natural processes with updated human ingenuity and purpose to offer
much-needed benefits, but at the same time each presents real and even
existential risks that have roots in the long stream of previous iterations
of human ingenuity and purpose. Yet this framing of synthetic biology, climate engineering, and ubiquitous computation in terms of risk and benefit
conceals crucial questions of values and politics: Who gets to decide on
the agenda for scientific research and development? Who gets to say what
problems or grand challenges we try to solve? Who gets to say how we solve
them (or resolve them or muddle through them)? Who gets to partake in
those benefits, and are they the same people put at risk by our attempts to
solve the problems at stake?
These and many other questions are part of the enduring legacy of
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, here brought to you in a new critical edition
designed to enhance our collective understandings and to invent—intentionally—a world in which we all want to live and, indeed, a world in which
we all can thrive.
Editors’ Preface 
1. By “critical,” we mean being engaged in a detailed way with the text so that we are dealing not
with superficial appearances but rather with deeper meanings and understandings. Scholars in
the humanities often call this approach “close reading.” We do not mean “critical” in the sense of
“demeaning” or “disparaging.” In fact, for the style of critical engagement you will encounter in
this volume, simply attacking the novel or highlighting its flaws would not be nearly so revealing
or fun.
2. One contemporary source for this perspective is an episode of the cable television series Prophets
of Science Fiction (2011), dedicated to Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. The series was conceived,
hosted, and executive-produced by blockbuster science fiction film director Ridley Scott.
3. The challenges of understanding Mary Shelley across the centuries have been brought to life
brilliantly by a monologue commissioned and performed at the Bakken Museum. Located
in Minneapolis, the Bakken is a small museum dedicated to the history of research into electricity
and magnetism inspired by Earl Bakken, inventor of that most Frankensteinian technology,
the transistorized pacemaker. At the workshop in May 2014, we were treated to a performance of
this monologue by Dawn Krzykowski Brodey.
4. The relationship between science fiction and society’s broader relationship to the future is
central to the work that one of us (Finn) pursues at the Center for Science and the Imagination at
ASU. The center was founded to explore and expand our collective capacity to imagine a broad
range of possible futures, especially in terms of creativity and responsibility.
Editors’ Preface
This volume would not have been possible without the tireless efforts, wise
counsel, and formidable intellect of our friends and colleagues.
We thank the following readers, who painstakingly identified passages
in the text for annotation: Cristi Coursen, Mary Feeney, Steve Helms Tillery,
Gary Marchant, and Clark Miller of Arizona State University as well as
Stephanie Naufel of Northwestern University.
We also thank all of the participants in the “Multi-disciplinary Workshop on Scientific Creativity and Societal Responsibility” at Arizona State
University in April 2014, where we first discussed plans for this volume, as
well as Al DeSena, the program officer at the National Science Foundation
who supported the workshop with a generous grant and more generous
wisdom. We especially thank Cajsa Baldini, who originally conceived of
the idea for this edition (you can learn more about Cajsa’s invaluable contributions to the project in the “Editors’ Preface”), and all of the members
of the Critical Edition Working Group: Joshua Abbott, Brad Allenby, Joe
Buenker, Jenefer Husman, Jane Maienschein, Catherine O’Donnell, and
Jameson Wetmore of Arizona State University as well as Deedee Falls of
the Bioscience High School in Phoenix.
In May 2015, we held a second advisory board workshop at ASU to
make critical decisions about the goals for this project and the structure
of the book. The conversations at that workshop were truly formative and
immensely helpful. We thank all of our advisory board members for their
intellectual generosity, good vibes, and keen insights: Torie Bosch of Slate
magazine, Elizabeth Denlinger of the New York Public Library, Karin
Ellison and Erika Gronek of Arizona State University, Kate Kiehl and
Corey Pressman of Neologic, and Charles E. Robinson of the University of
Special thanks to Valerye Milleson, a former postdoctoral fellow at the
Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics and an incisive thinker in the field of
clinical ethics, for shepherding this project through its earliest stages with
careful attention and brio.
At ASU, institutional support was provided by Patrick Kenney, dean
of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Sethuraman “Panch”
Panchanathan, executive vice president for research and director of ASU’s
Knowledge Enterprise Development. We thank them profusely, as well as
the many who provided other kinds of support, including Sally Kitch, George
Justice, and Jim O’Donnell.
We are immeasurably grateful to all of our collaborators, including anyone we have failed to mention here. Any errors that remain are ours alone.
In this novel written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797–1851), Victor
Frankenstein (never called “Dr.” Frankenstein) leaves behind his idyllic
childhood and Edenic Geneva, goes to university, studies the latest technologies and medical procedures, creates an unnamed monster,1 and suffers
the dangerous consequences of his pursuit of knowledge when his creature destroys his brother William; his wife, Elizabeth; and his best friend,
Henry Clerval. In short, Frankenstein is a cautionary tale. And it is now
for the first time published by an institute of technology for the purposes
of educating students who are pursuing science, technology, engineering,
and mathematics (STEM). (Some readers may wish or need to substitute
medicine for mathematics in this acronym.) Up until this edition, Frankenstein has been primarily edited and published for and read by humanities
students, students equally in need of reading this cautionary tale about
forbidden knowledge and playing God. And to embrace the largest audience, we are publishing what may also be defined as a “STEAM edition” of
Frankenstein, the A edited in for the arts, design, and humanities.
STEAM provides us a launching point for an analysis of Frankenstein,
for its action takes place in the 1790s, by which time James Watt (1736–
1819) had radically improved the steam engine and in effect started the
Industrial Revolution, which accelerated the development of science and
technology as well as medicine and machines in the nineteenth century.2
The new steam engine powered paper mills, printed newspapers, and further developed commerce through steamboats and then trains. These same
years were charged by the French Revolution, and anyone wishing to do a
chronology of the action in Frankenstein will discover that Victor went off
to the University of Ingolstadt in 1789, the year of the Fall of the Bastille,
and he developed his creature in 1793, the year of the Reign of Terror in
France.3 Terror (as well as error) was the child of both revolutions, and
Mary’s novel records the terrorizing effects of the birth of the new revolutionary age, in the shadows of which we still live.
Frankenstein presents us with a world full of shadows and darkness
and terror: we frequently read these three words and their variants in the
text of Frankenstein; we encounter the visuals of these three words in the
many hundreds of stage and screen adaptations of this novel, often figured
by the Boris Karloff neck-bolted monster; and we experience the shadows
and darkness and terror when we read the many news reports about cloning, genetic engineering, Frankenfoods, and the most recently unearthed
Frankenvirus announced in September 2015. All of these references derive
their metaphoric origin from a teenager named Mary Godwin, who eloped
to the Continent with the already married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley
(1792 –1822) in late July 1814, when she was sixteen; began writing her
novel about Victor and his creature in Geneva in mid-June 1816, when she
was eighteen; married Percy in London in late December 1816 after his first
wife, Harriet, committed suicide; finished her novel in April or May 1817,
when she was nineteen; and published it on 1 January 1818, when she was
twenty years old. And this STEAM edition of the novel is being prepared
exactly two hundred years later in commemoration of the bicentennial of
this young woman’s achievements.
It needs to be firmly stated here that Mary was not a Luddite opposed
to new technologies. In fact, she was very interested in scientific matters,
probably as a consequence of her parents, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–
1797) and William Godwin (1756–1836). Wollstonecraft was a famous
political philosopher and feminist who died eleven days after her daughter was born as Mary Godwin, but the daughter was nurtured by reading
her mother’s works, including Thoughts on the Education of Daughters
(1787) and the more famous Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792),
in which she argued that elementary school girls of the period should
perform the simple experiments in “natural philosophy” or science that
boys of the same age performed. Mary also received a scientific education
indirectly from her father, a famous novelist and political philosopher who
was visited at home by many famous writers and intellectuals, including
the scientist and inventor William Nicholson (1753–1815). As a young girl,
Mary almost certainly met Nicholson during his many visits to Godwin
up through February 1810, and she likely knew of his publications, which
included The First Principles of Chemistry (1790; third edition, 1796) and
his earlier student textbook Introduction to Natural Philosophy (2 vols.,
1782; fifth edition, 1805). As William St. Clair has remarked in his authoritative biography of the Godwins and the Shelleys, William Godwin turned
to Nicholson “for information on the latest theories in chemistry, physics,
optics, biology, and the other natural sciences” and for “his advice on scientific method” ([1989] 1991, 61).
When Mary met Percy Shelley, she learned that he had been encouraged in his scientific studies at Eton by Dr. James Lind (1736–1812), who
was a member of the Lunar Society, a club that included scientists such as
James Watt; the physician and poet and natural philosopher Erasmus
Darwin (1731–1802), who published Zoonomia (1794 –1801), a medicalphilosophical treatise dealing with such matters as reproduction, development, sensation, and disease; and the dissenting minister and political
activist Joseph Priestley (1733–1804), who knew Benjamin Franklin and
published The History and Present State of Electricity, with Original
Experiments (1767).4 Mary also must have known that at Oxford in 1810–
1811 Percy had constructed his own electrical kite, made sparks by an electrical apparatus, and stored the “fluid” of electricity in Leyden jars: these
actions provide the basis for the electrical experiments by Victor’s father,
Alphonse, in Frankenstein. The two Shelleys attended at least one of the
many lectures in London on chemistry and electricity at this time, Mary
recording on 28 December 1814 that they attended the “Theatre of Grand
Philosophical Recreations” at the Great Room, Spring Gardens, where the
famous balloon ascender and parachute descender “Professor Garnerin”
gave a lecture titled “Electricity, Gas, Aerostation, Phantasmagoria, and
Hydraulic Sports.” 5 In Geneva in June 1816, during the coldest summer
on record, Mary listened to conversations between Lord Byron and Percy
about possibly discovering “the nature of the principle of life” (pp. 191–
192), about galvanism and the experiments of Erasmus Darwin, and about
the possible reanimation of a corpse.6 And in early August 1816, she made
Percy a balloon and purchased a telescope for his birthday.7 Within a few
months, by 28 October, she recorded her familiarity with the science of Sir
Humphry Davy (1778–1829), whose book Elements of Chemical Philosophy
(1812)8 she read while she was drafting the first chapters of Frankenstein
in the fall of 1816.
During the two-year period before Mary began to write Frankenstein,
she was almost certainly aware, by way of Percy, of the famous vitalist
controversy on the definition of life between two prominent scientists,
John Abernethy (1764–1831) and his pupil, William Lawrence (1783–1867),
the two professors of anatomy and surgery at London’s Royal College of
Surgeons.9 Percy had attended some of Abernethy’s lectures in 1811, and
Lawrence was Percy’s personal physician.10 Moreover, Mary had met
Lawrence at least twice when she accompanied her father to tea on 1
June 1812 and 5 March 1813 at the home of John Frank Newton, known
for his vegetarianism.11 Lawrence and Abernethy had become opponents
by 1814: the former argued for a materialist explanation of life and against
Abernethy’s theory of vitalism, which explained life in terms of “some
‘superadded’ force … , some ‘subtile, mobile, invisible substance,’ analogous on the one hand to soul and on the other to electricity.” 12 This debate
between Lawrence and Abernethy may have inspired Mary’s depiction of
Victor’s relationships with his two different professors at the University
of Ingolstadt (1472–1800), an actual Bavarian institution that had faculties of science, humanities, and medicine.13 Victor first encountered and
rejected “M. Krempe, professor of natural philosophy” (p. 28), who ridiculed
him for his concentration on the alchemical philosophers Albertus Magnus
(c. 1193 –1280) and Paracelsus (1493–1541) and who recommended the
latest books on natural philosophy. Victor was not naive, but his negative
reaction to Krempe was dictated by the professor’s physiognomy (appearance is a thematic motif in this novel: witness the horrified reactions to
the deformed creature). As Victor himself explains, “I had long considered
those authors useless whom the professor had so strongly reprobated; but
I did not feel much inclined to study the books which I procured at his
recommendation. M. Krempe was a little squat man, with a gruff voice
and repulsive countenance; the teacher, therefore, did not prepossess me
in favour of his doctrine. Besides, I had a contempt for the uses of modern
natural philosophy” (p. 29).
Victor changed his opinion about modern science once he heard M.
Waldman (also modeled on Percy Shelley’s kindly Etonian professor, Dr.
Lind) deliver a lecture about the history of science, a lecture that most
STEM students need to hear today:
M. Waldman entered shortly after. This professor was very unlike his
colleague. He appeared about fifty years of age, but with an aspect
expressive of the greatest benevolence. … He began his lecture by a
recapitulation of the history of chemistry and the various improvements made by different men of learning, pronouncing with fervour
the names of the most distinguished discoverers. He then took a cursory
view of the present state of the science, and explained many of its
elementary terms. After having made a few preparatory experiments,
he concluded with a panegyric upon modern chemistry, the terms of
which I shall never forget:—
“The ancient teachers of this science,” said he, “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; 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.” (p. 30)
That same evening Victor seeks out Waldman in his own house and discovers that his new mentor is exceptionally kind and affable:
He heard with attention my little narration concerning my studies, and
smiled at the names of Cornelius Agrippa, and Paracelsus, but without
the contempt that M. Krempe had exhibited. He said, that “these were
men to whose indefatigable zeal modern philosophers were indebted
for most of the foundations of their knowledge. They had left to us, as
an easier task, to give new names, and arrange in connected classifications, the facts which they in a great degree had been the instruments
of bringing to light. The labours of men of genius, however erroneously
directed, scarcely ever fail in ultimately turning to the solid advantage
of mankind.” … [I] added, that his lecture had removed my prejudices
against modern chemists; and I, at the same time, requested his advice
concerning the books I ought to procure. (pp. 30–31)
Before inviting Victor to use the machines in his laboratory, Waldman
gives him a message that speaks across the decades to the STEM students
of the twenty-first century:
“Chemistry is that branch of natural philosophy in which the greatest
improvements have been and may be made; it is on that account that
I have made it my peculiar study; but at the same time I have not
neglected the other branches of science. A man would make but a very
sorry chemist, if he attended to that department of human knowledge
alone. If your wish is to become really a man of science, and not merely
a petty experimentalist, I should advise you to apply to every branch of
natural philosophy, including mathematics.” (p. 30)
Despite these endorsements of chemistry and natural philosophy in
her novel, Mary realized that science could be abused, as is certainly evident
in Victor’s reckless and selfish experiments, which do not account for their
consequences. Even Victor is aware of the distinction between his selfish
actions and his selfless actions. In his initial conversation with the scientific explorer Robert Walton, the narrator of this frame-tale novel,14 he
refuses to share his secret knowledge: “I will not lead you on, unguarded
and ardent as I then was, to your destruction and infallible misery.” Victor
continues: “Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example,
how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he
who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow” (p. 35). On his
death bed at the end of the novel, Victor addresses a similar warning to
Walton: “Seek happiness in tranquillity, 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” (p. 182).
Although Mary seems to be leaving the door open here for a future
when selflessness and science will mutually serve each other, the novel’s
basic argument is that science can be as destructive as it is constructive.
That argument about the dangers of knowledge is emphasized when the
creature “found a fire which had been left by some wandering beggars, and
was overcome with delight at the warmth I experienced from it. In my joy
I thrust my hand into the live embers, but quickly drew it out again with
a cry of pain. How strange, I thought, that the same cause should produce such opposite effects!” (p. 84, my italics).15 By her subtitle The Modern
Prometheus, Mary is asking her reader to recall the Promethean myth, in
which the Titan Prometheus steals fire (representing knowledge) from the
Olympian Zeus to give to primal and prerational man, only to suffer the
consequences of his actions. Zeus chains Prometheus, the creator of rational man, to a rock, where he is visited daily by a vulture/eagle that devours
his liver/heart, only to have the same punishment repeated each day. So
knowledge does cause sorrow, and fire does cause pain; and the etymology
of the name “Prometheus” (Forethought) is ironic: Victor, “the modern Prometheus,” lacks forethought and fails to understand the destructive consequences of his actions in constructing his creature. Although Mary did not
make the corollary myth explicit in her narrative, Prometheus’s brother
Epimetheus (Afterthought) is associated with all the evils released from
Pandora’s box: fulfilling that myth have been the technocratic decisions
leading to the pesticide DDT, the atom bomb, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl,
and the British government’s permission, reported in the British newspapers on 1 February 2016, that a stem cell scientist could perform genome
editing despite objections that ethical issues were being ignored.
Prometheus is not the only myth that Mary used to develop her theme.
Even more noticeable are her many references to the Book of Genesis, with
its Garden of Eden and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The
epigraph on the title page of the first edition of Frankenstein in 1818 is
taken from John Milton’s famous epic poem Paradise Lost, one of the books
from which the creature learns to read. He is a “quick study” when he
reads that Adam and Eve, tempted by Satan to be like God in knowing
good and evil, ate of the tree and were exiled from paradise. Knowledge led
to sorrow and the fall of humankind from the sin of pride or hubris. The
attentive reader will notice that Victor’s Edenic childhood in Geneva is lost
when he goes off to university to study science: he laments the loss of his
“native town” (p. 53) in the same way that the creature laments his loss
after he learns the “godlike science” of speech (p. 91) and “the science of
letters [reading]” (p. 97): “sorrow only increased with knowledge. Oh, that
I had for ever remained in my native wood, nor known or felt beyond the
sensations of hunger, thirst, and heat!” (p. 99).16
The parallels between Victor’s and the creature’s statements about the
dangers of knowledge draw our attention to the doppelgänger or double
theme of this novel in which the physical ugliness of the creature reflects
the psychological ugliness of his creator, Victor. As Victor himself expresses
that relationship, “I considered the being whom I had cast among mankind,
and endowed with the will and power to effect purposes of horror, such as
the deed which he had now done, nearly in the light of my own vampire,
my own spirit let loose from the grave, and forced to destroy all that was
dear to me” (p. 59). If man was made in God’s image, it is only appropriate that the creature would be made in the image of his psychologically
disfigured creator, one whose head or reason has destroyed his heart or
emotions in the persons of Elizabeth and Clerval: in the 1831 edition, Victor
identifies his Elizabeth as the “living spirit of love” that he needs for psychic
completion; and in both the 1818 and 1831 editions, Victor “saw the image
of [his] former [and better] self ” in Clerval (p. 134). A diagram helps to
demonstrate the symbolic relations among all of the major characters as
they externalize Victor’s internal conflict:
Robert Walton
Victor Frankenstein
the creature
Margaret Walton Saville
Elizabeth Lavenza and
Henry Clerval
the female creature
Once Victor destroys the female creature, it is inevitable that the creature
himself will destroy Elizabeth and Clerval; in effect, the novel “ends” the
night that Victor constructs his creature, and the rest of the plot merely literalizes and externalizes Victor’s self-destructive acts when he rules love
out of his heart and, in the form of his monstrous self, kills Elizabeth and
Clerval in what may be read as an act of suicide.
This reading of Frankenstein is but one among the many that this novel
allows. Victor constructing his monstrous creature may also be read as
political science or political philosophers creating the destructive French
Revolution or the science of natural philosophy creating the dehumanizing
Industrial Revolution. Yet another reading of the novel is that it is about
the creating of the novel itself: just as Victor assembles bones and muscles
and sinews and other body parts of his creature, so also Mary assembled
the words and images and symbols and punctuation of her novel. To make
this point, she used birthing metaphors in her introduction to the 1831
edition: she did “dilate upon, so very hideous an idea”: “I bid my hideous
progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the
offspring of happy days” (pp. 189, 193, my italics).17
Those happy days involved collaboration with Percy Shelley in 1816
and 1817, when the novel was written—and there is a lesson to STEM
students in the facts of that collaboration, which is often essential for most
scientific discovery. As I have outlined in other publications,18 Percy edited
Mary’s novel, suggesting that she expand a shorter version of it into the
novel we now read, in the margins of the draft manuscript advising about
some of the plot, rewriting parts of the concluding pages as he fair copied
the draft into the pages that would be submitted to the publisher, advising
her about transforming her thirty-three-chapter draft into a twenty-threechapter “fair copy,” and writing at least five thousand of the seventy-two
thousand words of this novel. In general, Mary relied on Percy for some
of her accomplishments in the first edition of the novel she published on
1 January 1818.19 In doing so, she implicitly honored the character of
Clerval, who, as a social scientist and linguist staying in Geneva to honor
his father’s wishes and leaving there with the hopes of pursuing his own
education, only to end up nursing Victor, offers an example to the reader:
Clerval, whose “science” involves other people, does not isolate himself
as Victor does in his pursuit of knowledge. As Victor describes him later,
“Clerval! beloved friend! … He was a being formed in the ‘very poetry of
nature.’ His wild and enthusiastic imagination was chastened by the sensibility of his heart” (p. 132). It is likely that Percy wrote these words in a
late addition to the proofs of the novel, and the reference to “imagination”
(the head or reason chastened or directed by the heart) will help bring this
introduction to what I hope is an illuminating end.
The chastened or creative imagination is at the heart of English
romanticism, and its various definitions somehow involve or evolve from
the famous and short thirteenth chapter of Biographia literaria (1817) by
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), in which he simply states that the
“primary imagination [is] the living power and prime agent of all human
perception, and … a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of
creation in the infinite I am” ([1817] 1907, 202). Just as God ontologically
created or fashioned this universe from chaotic matter, so also does the
human mind or imagination epistemologically creates its own universe
from the chaotic sensory data that a person receives from the external
world. Man is not God (although Victor tries to be); rather, man is like unto
God in each and every one of the creative perceptions that take place every
second of a human being’s existence. What this means is that we never
know the thing in itself—we know only our creative constructs of a thing.
Percy Shelley put it most bluntly: “nothing exists but as it is perceived,”
and “All things exist as they are perceived.” 20 These statements mean that
for Percy Shelley, rather than an ontology (or theory of being) determining
what our epistemology (or theory of knowledge) might be, epistemology is
primary or privileged in all human experience. If creative perception determines existence, then it is fair to say that a novel is just as real or true as
a scientific theory—both are constructs by the human imagination to give
form to the chaos of our experiences. Such reasoning puts the A back into
STEM and demonstrates that there really are not Two Cultures, science
and the humanities21—there is only one unified theory of being created by
us as a means to give form to a reality that we never fully know in itself.
The Shelleys are attempting to tell us that the humanities, including in
this case Frankenstein, offer a representation of the world that is just as
valid as an engineer’s blueprint.
Thus, Frankenstein and this introduction encourage STEM students
to respect the humanities as offering a valid means of defining and even
improving the world, much as science hopes to do. Frankenstein is certainly
not the only work of art that addresses these issues, but it has become a
metaphor for science that ignores human consequences and values. Every
day some blog or newspaper or magazine or book or movie or television
show alludes to Frankenstein in order to describe science gone bad. But
these allusions to the evils of science can teach us much about our human
condition. In fact, some recent Frankenstein-inspired “moving pictures”
(the first Frankenstein film was produced in 1910 by the inventor Thomas
Edison) actually show a nonhuman being gaining respect for human life
and human values. Ignoring the usual suspects among the many “Frankenstein” movies, including Mel Brooks’s wonderful Young Frankenstein
(1974),22 I conclude here by mentioning two of my favorite allusive works
of art: James Cameron’s film Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and the
CBS television series Person of Interest (2011–2016), which centers on an
artificial intelligence (AI) machine.
Most people do not realize that T-2 is an homage to Mary and her novel,
but the viewer is reminded of Frankenstein by the opening electric flashes
as the nonhuman android Arnold Schwarzenegger materializes, comes back
from the future, and reveals that he has apparently developed the equivalent of a heart that can feel for humanity. Even more allusive is his selfless
destruction of the computer chip that conveniently saves Los Angeles and
the world from the thermonuclear destruction that would occur on August
29, 1997, the day before Mary’s two hundredth birthday—so that we could
celebrate her bicentennial without holding her responsible for starting the
scientific revolution that eventually led to the computer chip that led to
the microprocessor that led to Skynet that led to the destruction of billions
of lives.
Less allusive but equally compelling is the plot of Person of Interest,
in which computer programmer, engineering genius, and tech billionaire
Harold Finch (he also goes by other bird names) creates an AI machine
for the government to prevent terrorist attacks. At the same time that the
government abuses the power of this all-seeing and all-hearing AI machine,
Finch and his associates use it to predict and prevent local murders and
other acts of nonterrorist violence. The amoral Machine, which electronically monitors every cell phone and email message and surveillance camera in the world to detect terrorism, teaches itself and apparently develops,
as the Terminator did, compassion for the local victims of violence. As it
is pursued by various antagonists and attacked by a competitor machine
called Samaritan, it hides itself in the national power grid. At the end of
season 4, as Samaritan shuts down the power grid starting on the West
Coast, the Machine retreats to a large electrical substation in Brooklyn
until Finch and associates download enough of the computer code into a
hard drive that will be carried away in a suitcase—in hopes of saving the
world from Samaritan’s machinations (as it were). Electricity, technology,
and the “Frankenstein” myth seem to come full circle at this moment of
the plot: from Benjamin Franklin’s kites and electrical storms to Joseph
Priestley’s history of electricity that led to late eighteenth-century and
early nineteenth-century scientific experiments, to Frankenstein, to Hollywood adaptations of Frankenstein that use lightning to power the electrical
machines that generate the creature, and to the most recent adaptations
that feature computers and codes and algorithms and hard drives and a
final apocalyptic machine on which the fate of the world depends.23
University of Delaware
1. In my previous publications on Frankenstein, I referred to Victor Frankenstein’s unnamed
creation as “the monster,” what I deemed the most appropriate of the names given to him
in the novel (he is also denominated “creature,” “Being,” “wretch,” “devil,” and “dæmon”). In this
introduction, I follow the editors’ use of the word creature to denominate the unnamed “Being,”
despite the fact that some who use the word creature tend to excuse his actions, whereas
some who use the word monster tend to hold him accountable for the murders he commits.
Mary certainly wanted to force the reader to morally judge the “creature” by not giving him a name.
For example, were we to call him a “dæmon,” we would not necessarily demonize him, for “dæmon”
to Mary meant not a devil (and not a program running in a Unix system) but, as in Greek mythology,
a runner between heaven and earth, a superhuman being less than a god. By having no single
name, the monster has a universality that embraces all of humankind; indeed, when Mary saw in
the playbill of the first theatrical performance of her novel in 1823 that the “______” was being
played by “Mr T. Cooke,” she remarked in a letter to Leigh Hunt that “this nameless mode of naming
the un[n]ameable is rather good” (M. Shelley 1980, 1:378). The reader is also reminded that
“naming” is a symbolic act in which the namer is greater than the named; that Victor does not name
his “creature” tells us much about their relationship.
2. Watt’s many legacies include the name of the unit of power that we now call the “watt.”
3. See Robinson 2016b, 1:lxv–lxvi and especially lxxv n. 46, where Anne K. Mellor and Leonard
Wolf are also cited, and Robinson 2016a. See also Crook 1996, 1:51 n.
4. Readers of this edition who wish to pursue these various antecedents to Frankenstein are
encouraged to seek information on these and other eighteenth-century scientists in the Oxford
Dictionary of National Biography (available online in most university library databases) and to
read their works and others online at Google Books and hathitrust.org.
5. See M. Shelley 1987, I:56 and n., and an advertisement in the Morning Post for 8 November
1814, p. 2, col. 1. The “Professor Garnerin” referred to is probably the aeronaut André-Jacques
Garnerin (1769–1823), but it also might possibly be his brother Jean-Baptiste-Olivier Garnerin
(1766–1849). Because of a misreading of Mary’s journal entry, the lecturer is incorrectly identified
as Andrew Crosse in scores of websites and a number of books—see, for example, Prior 2015.
(Note that difficult-to-correct error creeps into literary as well as scientific papers.) It is also
possible that the lectures to which Godwin took Mary in early 1812 (January 2, 9, 13, 16, 20, and
27), as recorded in his diary, dealt with anatomy and chemistry—see Godwin 2012 and http://
6. That cold summer resulted from the Indonesian volcano Tambora erupting in 1815 and blanketing
the atmosphere with gas and ash (see “Frankenstein’s Summer” and “Ice Tsunami in the Alps”
in D’Arcy Wood 2014, 1–11, 150–170). Assembled during the telling of ghost stories at Byron’s
Villa Diodati were Mary and Percy, the twenty-eight-year-old poet Lord Byron (1788–1824);
Mary’s eighteen-year-old and slightly younger stepsister Clara Mary Jane (Claire) Clairmont
(1798–1879), pregnant with Byron’s child; and Byron’s young personal physician, John William
Polidori (1795–1821).
7. See M. Shelley 1987, 121–122, journal entries for 1–4 August 1816.
8. Garrett 2002, 24–25. Shelley read Davy’s Elements of Chemical Philosophy (1812) on September
28–31, 1816, while drafting Frankenstein. The clever reader may wish to find echoes of Davy’s
works in Frankenstein.
9. For more on materialism and vitalism, see Jane Maienschein and Kate MacCord’s essay “Changing
Conceptions of Human Nature” in this volume.
10. See Bieri 2008, 135, 266, 313, 383–384.
11. Newton had recently published The Return to Nature, or, A Defense of the Vegetable Regimen;
with Some Account of an Experiment Made during the Last Three or Four Years in the Author’s Family
([1811] 2015). Note that the creature is a vegetarian who survives on “acorns and berries” (p. 121).
12. M. Butler 1993a, 12–14, quoting John Abernathy. See also “The Shelleys and Radical Science,”
Marilyn Butler’s introduction to Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus: The 1818 Text (Butler
1993b, xv–xx), which was reprinted and reissued in an Oxford World’s Classics edition of Frankenstein
(M. Shelley 2008). For more on this matter, see Mellor 1987 and Mellor’s essay in this volume.
See also Rushton 2016.
13. The University of Ingolstadt was also defined by the Illuminati, a secret and revolutionary
society founded there in 1776.
14. The frame tale is essentially a didactic device: from the outside in, the reader is to Walton just
as Walton is to Victor just as Victor is to the creature just as the creature is to the De Laceys.
From the inside out, the De Laceys teach the creature, who teaches Victor, who teaches Walton,
who teaches his sister, Margaret Walton Saville (note the initials MWS), and thereby teaches
the reader about the dangerous consequences of the pursuit of knowledge.
15. Mary makes the same symbolic point when the creature delivers firewood to assist the De
Lacey family with their chores but then later burns down the De Lacey cottage after the family
rejects him.
16. The third Western myth about the dangerous consequences of the pursuit of knowledge can
be found in Plato’s Symposium (Plato 1999), in which Aristophanes, in attempting to define love,
tells the story of the circular and sexually complete (four arms and four legs) primal being who
rolls halfway up Mount Olympus and with the extra appendages scales the remaining heights and
intrudes on the dominion of the gods. In response to that being’s presumption and pride, the gods
split the being down the middle. Aristophanes concludes that love is the desire to make whole,
complete, and entire what once had been whole, complete, and entire. Mary does not allude to this
myth until her 1831 edition, in which Victor tells Walton that “we are unfashioned creatures, but
half made up, if one wiser, better, dearer than ourselves—such a friend ought to be—do not lend
his aid to perfectionate our weak and faulty natures. I once had a friend [Clerval], the most noble
of human creatures, and am entitled, therefore, to judge respecting friendship” ([1831] 2000, 38).
Mary became aware of this myth when she, as amanuensis, transcribed Percy’s translation of the
Symposium in 1818.
17. For one of the many birthing metaphors in the novel proper, consider that Frankenstein’s
“cheek had grown pale with study, and [his] person had become emaciated with confinement”
(p. 38) during the period he constructs his creature, “confinement” denoting the period shortly
before the birth of a child. For another reference to this metaphor, consider that Walton’s narrative
takes place over 276 days—that is, the nine-month gestation period.
18. See my “Frankenstein Chronology” (Robinson 2016a, 1:lxxvi–cx), especially the entries
between 15 June 1816 and 28 October 1817; this chronology can be consulted online in the
Shelley–Godwin Archive at http://shelleygodwinarchive.org. This archive also makes available
digital images of all the manuscript pages of the Shelleys’ draft and fair copy of the novel, but
the reader is cautioned that the facing transcription pages lack the lineation of the hardbound
edition and also lack the extensive footnotes to each manuscript page. For my more recent
essay on this collaboration, see Robinson 2015. For a visual representation of Percy’s words in
Mary’s draft, see M. Shelley 2008, 39–254.
19. The first edition was published in three volumes in 500 copies by Lackington, Hughes, Harding,
Mavor, & Jones. A second edition in two volumes was published on 11 August 1823 in 500 copies
by G. and W. B. Whittaker. A revised and third edition in one volume with an added chapter was
published on Halloween, 31 October 1831, in 4,020 copies by Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley.
20. For these two quotations, see Percy Shelley’s essays “On Life” and “A Defence of Poetry” in
P. Shelley 2002.
21. I here allude to the famous lecture “The Two Cultures” delivered by the chemist, physicist, and
novelist C. P. Snow (1905–1980), published under the title The Two Cultures and the Scientific
Revolution ([1959] 2013).
22. See my “‘Frankenstein Filmography” in Robinson 2013. For other lists of Frankenstein films,
see http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/Pop/filmlist.html; see also the catalog of all things Frankenstein
in Glut 1984.
23. In the final episode of season 5 of Person of Interest, which aired on CBS on 21 June 2016,
we encounter an Ice-9 computer virus that eventually destroys Samaritan and nearly destroys
the Machine; a “cyber apocalypse” survived by the Machine and Finch and some of his associates;
and two universal lessons voiced by the Machine that Finch created: “everyone dies alone,” but
“maybe you never really die.” Although Frankenstein is never directly invoked in any of the 103
episodes, Person of Interest testifies to the life of Mary Shelley and of her creature during the past
two hundred years.
The event on which this fiction is founded has been supposed, by Dr. Darwin,1
and some of the physiological writers of Germany, as not of impossible occurrence. I shall not be supposed as according the remotest degree of serious
faith to such an imagination; yet, in assuming it as the basis of a work of
fancy, I have not considered myself as merely weaving a series of supernatural terrors. The event on which the interest of the story depends is
exempt from the disadvantages of a mere tale of spectres or enchantment.
It was recommended by the novelty of the situations which it developes;
and, however impossible as a physical fact, affords a point of view to the
imagination for the delineating of human passions more comprehensive
and commanding than any which the ordinary relations of existing events
can yield.
I have thus endeavoured to preserve the truth of the elementary principles of human nature, while I have not scrupled to innovate upon their
combinations. The Iliad, the tragic poetry of Greece,—Shakespeare, in the
Tempest and Midsummer Night’s Dream,—and most especially Milton, in
Paradise Lost, conform to this rule; and the most humble novelist, who
seeks to confer or receive amusement from his labours, may, without
presumption, apply to prose fiction a licence, or rather a rule, from the
adoption of which so many exquisite combinations of human feeling have
resulted in the highest specimens of poetry.
The circumstance on which my story rests was suggested in casual
conversation. It was commenced, partly as a source of amusement, and
partly as an expedient for exercising any untried resources of mind. Other
motives were mingled with these, as the work proceeded. I am by no means
indifferent to the manner in which whatever moral tendencies exist in the
sentiments or characters it contains shall affect the reader; yet my chief
concern in this respect has been limited to the avoiding the enervating
effects of the novels of the present day, and to the exhibition of the amiableness of domestic affection, and the excellence of universal virtue. The
opinions which naturally spring from the character and situation of the
hero are by no means to be conceived as existing always in my own conviction; nor is any inference justly to be drawn from the following pages as
prejudicing any philosophical doctrine of whatever kind.
1. Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802), a friend of Mary’s father, William Godwin, was a physician,
naturalist, philosopher, and poet. He contributed an early formulation of a single origin for all life,
which undergirded what came to be known as the theory of evolution as elaborated by his
grandson, Charles Darwin.
Jason Scott Robert.
It is a subject also of additional interest to the author, that this story
was begun in the majestic region where the scene is principally laid, and in
society which cannot cease to be regretted. I passed the summer of 1816 in
the environs of Geneva. The season was cold and rainy, and in the evenings
we crowded around a blazing wood fire, and occasionally amused ourselves
with some German stories of ghosts, which happened to fall into our hands.
These tales excited in us a playful desire of imitation. Two other friends (a
tale from the pen of one of whom would be far more acceptable to the public
than any thing I can ever hope to produce) and myself agreed to write each
a story, founded on some supernatural occurrence.
The weather, however, suddenly became serene; and my two friends
left me on a journey among the Alps, and lost, in the magnificent scenes
which they present, all memory of their ghostly visions. The following tale
is the only one which has been completed.2
To Mrs. SAVILLE, England.
St. Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17—.
You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement
of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings. I
arrived here yesterday; and my first task is to assure my dear sister of my
welfare, and increasing confidence in the success of my undertaking.
I am already far north of London; and as I walk in the streets of Petersburgh, I feel a cold northern breeze play upon my cheeks, which braces my
nerves, and fills me with delight. Do you understand this feeling? This
breeze, which has travelled from the regions towards which I am advancing, gives me a foretaste of those icy climes. Inspirited by this wind of
promise, my day dreams become more fervent and vivid. I try in vain to be
persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost and desolation; it ever presents
itself to my imagination as the region of beauty and delight. There,
Margaret, the sun is for ever visible; its broad disk just skirting the horizon,
and diffusing a perpetual splendour. There—for with your leave, my sister,
2. Lord George Gordon Byron (1788–1824) answered his own challenge that evening by writing
the first paragraph of a vampire story inspired by the German ghost stories. John Polidori
(1795–1821) later extended that beginning into “The Vampyre” (1819), a short story that went on
to inspire Bram Stoker’s tremendously successful novel Dracula in 1897.
Ed Finn.
I will put some trust in preceding navigators—there snow and frost are
banished; and, sailing over a calm sea, we may be wafted to a land surpassing in wonders and in beauty every region hitherto discovered on the
habitable globe. Its productions and features may be without example, as
the phænomena of the heavenly bodies undoubtedly are in those undiscovered solitudes. What may not be expected in a country of eternal light?
I may there discover the wondrous power which attracts the needle;3 and
may regulate a thousand celestial observations, that require only this
voyage to render their seeming eccentricities consistent for ever. I shall
satiate my ardent curiosity 4 with the sight of a part of the world never
3. When Captain Walton talks about the “wondrous power [of] the needle,” he talks about magnetism and its very first application in a compass. For centuries, people ascribed magical powers
to magnetite and lodestones, until William Gilbert (1540–1603) first discovered the basic features
of magnetism and the fact that Earth itself is a weak magnet. The links between electricity and
magnetism were a major subject of scientific investigation during Mary’s lifetime, and a number of
expeditions departed for the North and South Poles in the hopes of discovering the secrets of
the planet’s magnetic field.
Nicole Herbots.
4. For moderns, this comment may seem self-evident, if a little florid. But such Promethean ambition does not characterize all historical periods or all cultures or all individuals; rather, it reflects
the interesting combination of curiosity, ambition, and historical perspective that coevolved with
the European exploration of science and a profoundly multicultural world. Mary was writing at
the close of the Age of Discovery, during which Europeans rounded the southern tip of Africa,
“discovered” and colonized the New World, and circumnavigated the globe. Polar exploration was
one remaining feat. It was also the age of romanticism, the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich
(1774–1840) and Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863), as well as the music of Ludwig van Beethoven
(1770–1827) and Hector Berlioz (1803–1869). This eagerness for exploration is express in
“Ulysses,” the poem written in 1833 by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892):
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move. (Tennyson 2004, 49)
The irony, at least to modern sensibilities, is that this romantic language befits the pursuit of art,
not the rational pursuit of science.
Braden Allenby.
Volume I
before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of
man.5 These are my enticements, and they are sufficient to conquer all fear
of danger or death, and to induce me to commence this laborious voyage
with the joy a child feels when he embarks in a little boat, with his holiday
mates, on an expedition of discovery up his native river. But, supposing all
these conjectures to be false, you cannot contest the inestimable benefit
which I shall confer on all mankind to the last generation, by discovering a
passage near the pole to those countries, to reach which at present so many
months are requisite; or by ascertaining the secret of the magnet, which, if
at all possible, can only be effected by an undertaking such as mine.
These reflections have dispelled the agitation with which I began my
letter, and I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me
to heaven; for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as
a steady purpose,—a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.
This expedition has been the favourite dream of my early years. I have
read with ardour the accounts of the various voyages which have been
made in the prospect of arriving at the North Pacific Ocean through the
seas which surround the pole. You may remember, that a history of all the
voyages made for purposes of discovery composed the whole of our good
uncle Thomas’s library. My education was neglected, yet I was passionately fond of reading. These volumes were my study day and night, and my
familiarity with them increased that regret which I had felt, as a child, on
learning that my father’s dying injunction had forbidden my uncle to allow
me to embark in a sea-faring life.
5. The phrase manifest destiny emerged in nineteenth-century America. It described the notion that
the expansion of the American people, culture, and institutions across North America was a mission of divine Providence, not merely one driven by practical need for more land and resources. But
the concept is much more deeply rooted and widespread, appearing in the earliest Western writings
in the form of the Promised Land of Abraham and his Israelite descendants. Robert Walton invokes
the concept implicitly in his exploration, which seems to need no justification other than that it
might help him to “accomplish some great purpose” (p. 5). By the nineteenth century, the development of science and industry not only facilitated such explorations but also made the conquest of
knowledge itself into a frontier that began to rival the conquest of land in importance—and that
was similarly justified in terms of a manifest destiny. The story of Frankenstein mirrors this transformation as Walton’s determination to visit that which has never before been visited is juxtaposed
alongside Victor’s determination to do that which has never before been done. We often use the
metaphor of the frontier—for example, “frontiers of research”—in describing the reach of scientific
inquiry. Worried that the American westward expansion and the manifest destiny that fueled it had
run its course, MIT engineer and presidential adviser Vannevar Bush (1945) coined the phrase the
endless frontier for the title of a report issued to President Harry Truman toward the end of World
War II. The report advocated for continued strong support of scientific research by the federal government after the war ended because scientific research could provide the inspiration and economic
benefits that westward expansion had previously provided.
Ariel Anbar.
These visions faded when I perused, for the first time, those poets
whose effusions entranced my soul, and lifted it to heaven. I also became
a poet, and for one year lived in a Paradise of my own creation; I imagined
that I also might obtain a niche in the temple where the names of Homer
and Shakespeare are consecrated. You are well acquainted with my failure, and how heavily I bore the disappointment. But just at that time I
inherited the fortune of my cousin, and my thoughts were turned into the
channel of their earlier bent.
Six years have passed since I resolved on my present undertaking. I
can, even now, remember the hour from which I dedicated myself to this
great enterprise. I commenced by inuring my body to hardship. I accompanied the whale-fishers on several expeditions to the North Sea; I voluntarily endured cold, famine, thirst, and want of sleep; I often worked
harder than the common sailors during the day, and devoted my nights to
the study of mathematics, the theory of medicine, and those branches of
physical science from which a naval adventurer might derive the greatest
practical advantage. Twice I actually hired myself as an under-mate in a
Greenland whaler, and acquitted myself to admiration. I must own I felt a
little proud, when my captain offered me the second dignity in the vessel,
and entreated me to remain with the greatest earnestness; so valuable did
he consider my services.
And now, dear Margaret, do I not deserve to accomplish some great
purpose. My life might have been passed in ease and luxury; but I preferred glory to every enticement that wealth placed in my path. Oh, that
some encouraging voice would answer in the affirmative! My courage and
my resolution is firm; but my hopes fluctuate, and my spirits are often
depressed. I am about to proceed on a long and difficult voyage; the emergencies of which will demand all my fortitude: I am required not only to
raise the spirits of others, but sometimes to sustain my own, when their’s
are failing.
This is the most favourable period for travelling in Russia. They fly
quickly over the snow in their sledges; the motion is pleasant, and, in my
opinion, far more agreeable than that of an English stage-coach. The cold
is not excessive, if you are wrapt in furs, a dress which I have already
adopted; for there is a great difference between walking the deck and
remaining seated motionless for hours, when no exercise prevents the
blood from actually freezing in your veins. I have no ambition to lose my
life on the post-road between St. Petersburgh and Archangel.
Volume I
I shall depart for the latter town in a fortnight or three weeks; and my
intention is to hire a ship there, which can easily be done by paying the
insurance for the owner, and to engage as many sailors as I think necessary among those who are accustomed to the whale-fishing. I do not intend
to sail until the month of June: and when shall I return? Ah, dear sister,
how can I answer this question? If I succeed, many, many months, perhaps
years, will pass before you and I may meet. If I fail, you will see me again
soon, or never.
Farewell, my dear, excellent, Margaret. Heaven shower down blessings on you, and save me, that I may again and again testify my gratitude
for all your love and kindness.
Your affectionate brother,
To Mrs. SAVILLE, England.
Archangel, 28th March, 17—.
How slowly the time passes here, encompassed as I am by frost and snow;
yet a second step is taken towards my enterprise. I have hired a vessel, and
am occupied in collecting my sailors; those whom I have already engaged
appear to be men on whom I can depend, and are certainly possessed of
dauntless courage.
But I have one want which I have never yet been able to satisfy; and
the absence of the object of which I now feel as a most severe evil. I have
no friend,6 Margaret: when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success,
there will be none to participate my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment, no one will endeavour to sustain me in dejection. I shall commit
my thoughts to paper, it is true; but that is a poor medium for the communication of feeling. I desire the company of a man who could sympathize
6. Throughout the novel, the problem of companionship recurs for Walton, for Victor, and for
Victor’s creature. Friendship is one of the foundations for community because it connects
the individual to a larger human endeavor—be it society, government, or scientific exploration.
The novel explores the value of trust and camaraderie wherein one can divulge deep concerns,
passions, and ambitions with another and so gain another’s insight into one’s own perspective.
Throughout the novel, the failure to connect with a friend becomes a problem with serious
consequences. Mary rarely has such companionship except, perhaps, with Percy Shelley. Percy’s
friendship with Lord Byron is well documented and acclaimed as an example of romantic poets
and thinkers who shared ideas and artistic passion.
Ron Broglio.
with me; whose eyes would reply to mine. You may deem me romantic, my
dear sister, but I bitterly feel the want of a friend. I have no one near me,
gentle yet courageous, possessed of a cultivated as well as of a capacious
mind, whose tastes are like my own, to approve or amend my plans. How
would such a friend repair the faults of your poor brother! I am too ardent
in execution, and too impatient of difficulties. But it is a still greater evil
to me that I am self-educated: for the first fourteen years of my life I ran
wild on a common, and read nothing but our uncle Thomas’s books of voyages. At that age I became acquainted with the celebrated poets of our own
country; but it was only when it had ceased to be in my power to derive
its most important benefits from such a conviction, that I perceived the
necessity of becoming acquainted with more languages than that of my
native country. Now I am twenty-eight, and am in reality more illiterate
than many school-boys of fifteen. It is true that I have thought more, and
that my day dreams are more extended and magnificent; but they want (as
the painters call it) keeping; and I greatly need a friend who would have
sense enough not to despise me as romantic, and affection enough for me
to endeavour to regulate my mind.
Well, these are useless complaints; I shall certainly find no friend on
the wide ocean, nor even here in Archangel, among merchants and seamen. Yet some feelings, unallied to the dross of human nature, beat even
in these rugged bosoms. My lieutenant, for instance, is a man of wonderful
courage and enterprise; he is madly desirous of glory. He is an Englishman, and in the midst of national and professional prejudices, unsoftened
by cultivation, retains some of the noblest endowments of humanity. I first
became acquainted with him on board a whale vessel: finding that he was
unemployed in this city, I easily engaged him to assist in my enterprise.
The master is a person of an excellent disposition, and is remarkable in
the ship for his gentleness, and the mildness of his discipline. He is, indeed,
of so amiable a nature, that he will not hunt (a favourite, and almost the
only amusement here), because he cannot endure to spill blood. He is, moreover, heroically generous. Some years ago he loved a young Russian lady, of
moderate fortune; and having amassed a considerable sum in prize-money,
the father of the girl consented to the match. He saw his mistress once
before the destined ceremony; but she was bathed in tears, and, throwing
herself at his feet, entreated him to spare her, confessing at the same time
that she loved another, but that he was poor, and that her father would
never consent to the union. My generous friend reassured the suppliant,
and on being informed of the name of her lover instantly abandoned his
pursuit. He had already bought a farm with his money, on which he had
Volume I
designed to pass the remainder of his life; but he bestowed the whole on
his rival, together with the remains of his prize-money to purchase stock,
and then himself solicited the young woman’s father to consent to her marriage with her lover. But the old man decidedly refused, thinking himself
bound in honour to my friend; who, when he found the father inexorable,
quitted his country, nor returned until he heard that his former mistress
was married according to her inclinations. “What a noble fellow!” 7 you will
exclaim. He is so; but then he has passed all his life on board a vessel, and
has scarcely an idea beyond the rope and the shroud.
But do not suppose that, because I complain a little, or because I can
conceive a consolation for my toils which I may never know, that I am
wavering in my resolutions. Those are as fixed as fate; and my voyage is
only now delayed until the weather shall permit my embarkation. The
winter has been dreadfully severe; but the spring promises well, and it
is considered as a remarkably early season; so that, perhaps, I may sail
sooner than I expected. I shall do nothing rashly; you know me sufficiently
to confide in my prudence and considerateness whenever the safety of others
is committed to my care.
I cannot describe to you my sensations on the near prospect of my
undertaking. It is impossible to communicate to you a conception of the
trembling sensation, half pleasurable and half fearful, with which I am
preparing to depart. I am going to unexplored regions, to “the land of mist
and snow”; but I shall kill no albatross,8 therefore do not be alarmed for
my safety.
7. There are two meanings to the word nobility, and they are often conflated. The first refers to
possessing a character with the highest qualities found in human beings, such as integrity,
decency, honor, and goodness. But these qualities are often attributed to persons of the highest
social rank in society—the second meaning of the word. The lieutenant, who gives up the woman
he is engaged to when she says she loves another and generously provides her lover with the
financial means to gain the acceptance of her family, goes well beyond what is expected. Perhaps
this behavior earns him the exclamation point? Mary gives these noble qualities to Walton’s second
in command, perhaps challenging the taken-for-granted hierarchy that typically ascribed these
qualities to individuals at the top. Yet she qualifies this choice by stating that the lieutenant didn’t
know any better, given that he spent so much time aboard a ship, further hinting that in the end
his sacrifice was no great loss to him. In real life, Mary marries into a noble family that opposes
her union with their son because of her father’s indebtedness.
Mary Margaret Fonow.
8. Mary has Captain Walton allude to the poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798), written by
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834). In the poem, which Mary heard Coleridge reading during
his many visits to the Godwin house, the title character kills an albatross that has been following
his boat, turning a good luck sign into an ill omen.
David H. Guston.
Shall I meet you again, after having traversed immense seas, and
returned by the most southern cape of Africa or America? I dare not expect
such success, yet I cannot bear to look on the reverse of the picture. Continue to write to me by every opportunity: I may receive your letters
(though the chance is very doubtful) on some occasions when I need them
most to support my spirits. I love you very tenderly. Remember me with
affection should you never hear from me again.
Your affectionate brother,
To Mrs. SAVILLE, England.
July 7th, 17—.
I write a few lines in haste, to say that I am safe, and well advanced on
my voyage. This letter will reach England by a merchant-man now on its
homeward voyage from Archangel; more fortunate than I, who may not see
my native land, perhaps, for many years. I am, however, in good spirits: my
men are bold, and apparently firm of purpose; nor do the floating sheets of
ice that continually pass us, indicating the dangers of the region towards
which we are advancing, appear to dismay them. We have already reached
a very high latitude; but it is the height of summer, and although not so
warm as in England, the southern gales, which blow us speedily towards
those shores which I so ardently desire to attain, breathe a degree of renovating warmth which I had not expected.
No incidents have hitherto befallen us, that would make a figure in
a letter. One or two stiff gales, and the breaking of a mast, are accidents
which experienced navigators scarcely remember to record; and I shall be
well content, if nothing worse happen to us during our voyage.
Adieu, my dear Margaret. Be assured, that for my own sake, as well as
your’s, I will not rashly encounter danger. I will be cool, persevering, and
Remember me to all my English friends.9
Most affectionately yours,
R. W.
9. Throughout Frankenstein, Mary utilizes an epistolary structure: significant sections of the novel
are made up of letters exchanged among the characters. These letters are often long and tender,
and they contain a wealth of personal details and endearments that do little to move the plot forward.
Volume I
To Mrs. SAVILLE, England.
August 5th, 17—.
So strange an accident has happened to us, that I cannot forbear recording
it, although it is very probable that you will see me before these papers can
come into your possession.
Last Monday (July 31st), we were nearly surrounded by ice, which closed
in the ship on all sides, scarcely leaving her the sea room in which she floated.
Our situation was somewhat dangerous, especially as we were compassed
round by a very thick fog. We accordingly lay to, hoping that some change
would take place in the atmosphere and weather.
About two o’clock the mist cleared away, and we beheld, stretched out
in every direction, vast and irregular plains of ice, which seemed to have
no end. Some of my comrades groaned, and my own mind began to grow
watchful with anxious thoughts, when a strange sight suddenly attracted
our attention, and diverted our solicitude from our own situation. We perceived a low carriage, fixed on a sledge and drawn by dogs, pass on towards
the north, at the distance of half a mile: a being which had the shape of a
man, but apparently of gigantic stature, sat in the sledge, and guided the
dogs. We watched the rapid progress of the traveller with our telescopes,
until he was lost among the distant inequalities of the ice.
This appearance excited our unqualified wonder. We were, as we believed,
many hundred miles from any land; but this apparition seemed to denote
that it was not, in reality, so distant as we had supposed. Shut in, however,
This approach might seem like an inefficient storytelling strategy, but it is quite the opposite. Mary
uses these letters strategically to emphasize the importance of the social bonds that give characters such as Victor and Captain Walton emotional sustenance during incredibly stressful times.
The letters are tangible artifacts of emotional labor—the investments of time, wit, and emotional
energy that make human relationships functional and rewarding. They contrast with the creature’s
life and reveal precisely what he is missing. He has no one with whom to share his experiences
and frustrations, so his life becomes unbearable, and he lashes out violently.
Language is an important way that we show love and understanding as well as receive it. The
laborious, solitary way that the creature acquires language, through scavenging books and eavesdropping, demonstrates just how removed he is from any form of nurturing social interaction.
Walton narrowly avoids making the same mistake as Victor, pursuing scientific discovery without considering the safety and well-being of the people around him. Walton is luckily in continuous
written contact with his sister, Margaret, who lovingly discourages him from going through
with his expedition to the North Pole. Their conversation, conducted through a series of letters,
might be what saves his life and the lives of his crew.
Joey Eschrich.
by ice, it was impossible to follow his track, which we had observed with
the greatest attention.
About two hours after this occurrence, we heard the ground sea; and
before night the ice broke, and freed our ship. We, however, lay to until the
morning, fearing to encounter in the dark those large loose masses which
float about after the breaking up of the ice. I profited of this time to rest
for a few hours.
In the morning, however, as soon as it was light, I went upon deck, and
found all the sailors busy on one side of the vessel, apparently talking to
some one in the sea. It was, in fact, a sledge, like that we had seen before,
which had drifted towards us in the night, on a large fragment of ice. Only
one dog remained alive; but there was a human being within it, whom the
sailors were persuading to enter the vessel. He was not, as the other traveller seemed to be, a savage inhabitant of some undiscovered island, but an
European. When I appeared on deck, the master said, “Here is our captain,
and he will not allow you to perish on the open sea.”
On perceiving me, the stranger addressed me in English, although with
a foreign accent. “Before I come on board your vessel,” said he, “will you have
the kindness to inform me whither you are bound?”
You may conceive my astonishment on hearing such a question addressed to me from a man on the brink of destruction, and to whom I should
have supposed that my vessel would have been a resource which he would
not have exchanged for the most precious wealth the earth can afford. I
replied, however, that we were on a voyage of discovery towards the northern pole.
Upon hearing this he appeared satisfied, and consented to come on
board. Good God! Margaret, if you had seen the man who thus capitulated
for his safety, your surprise would have been boundless. His limbs were
nearly frozen, and his body dreadfully emaciated by fatigue and suffering.
I never saw a man in so wretched a condition. We attempted to carry him
into the cabin; but as soon as he had quitted the fresh air, he fainted. We
accordingly brought him back to the deck, and restored him to animation
by rubbing him with brandy, and forcing him to swallow a small quantity. As
soon as he shewed signs of life, we wrapped him up in blankets, and placed
him near the chimney of the kitchen-stove. By slow degrees he recovered,
and ate a little soup, which restored him wonderfully.
Two days passed in this manner before he was able to speak; and I
often feared that his sufferings had deprived him of understanding. When
he had in some measure recovered, I removed him to my own cabin, and
attended on him as much as my duty would permit. I never saw a more
Volume I
interesting creature: his eyes have generally an expression of wildness,
and even madness; but there are moments when, if any one performs an
act of kindness towards him, or does him any the most trifling service, his
whole countenance is lighted up, as it were, with a beam of benevolence
and sweetness that I never saw equalled. But he is generally melancholy
and despairing; and sometimes he gnashes his teeth, as if impatient of the
weight of woes that oppresses him.
When my guest was a little recovered, I had great trouble to keep off
the men, who wished to ask him a thousand questions; but I would not
allow him to be tormented by their idle curiosity, in a state of body and
mind whose restoration evidently depended upon entire repose. Once,
however, the lieutenant asked, Why he had come so far upon the ice in so
strange a vehicle?
His countenance instantly assumed an aspect of the deepest gloom;
and he replied, “To seek one who fled from me.”
“And did the man whom you pursued travel in the same fashion?”
“Then I fancy we have seen him; for, the day before we picked you up,
we saw some dogs drawing a sledge, with a man in it, across the ice.”
This aroused the stranger’s attention; and he asked a multitude of
questions concerning the route which the dæmon, as he called him, had
pursued. Soon after, when he was alone with me, he said, “I have, doubtless, excited your curiosity, as well as that of these good people; but you are
too considerate to make inquiries.”
“Certainly; it would indeed be very impertinent and inhuman in me to
trouble you with any inquisitiveness of mine.”
“And yet you rescued me from a strange and perilous situation; you
have benevolently restored me to life.”
Soon after this he inquired, if I thought that the breaking up of the ice
had destroyed the other sledge? I replied, that I could not answer with any
degree of certainty; for the ice had not broken until near midnight, and the
traveller might have arrived at a place of safety before that time; but of
this I could not judge.
From this time the stranger seemed very eager to be upon deck, to
watch for the sledge which had before appeared; but I have persuaded him
to remain in the cabin, for he is far too weak to sustain the rawness of the
atmosphere. But I have promised that some one should watch for him, and
give him instant notice if any new object should appear in sight.
Such is my journal of what relates to this strange occurrence up to
the present day. The stranger has gradually improved in health, but is
very silent, and appears uneasy when any one except myself enters his
cabin. Yet his manners are so conciliating and gentle, that the sailors are
all interested in him, although they have had very little communication
with him. For my own part, I begin to love him as a brother; and his constant and deep grief fills me with sympathy and compassion. He must have
been a noble creature in his better days, being even now in wreck so attractive and amiable.10
I said in one of my letters, my dear Margaret, that I should find no
friend on the wide ocean; yet I have found a man who, before his spirit had
been broken by misery, I should have been happy to have possessed as the
brother of my heart.
I shall continue my journal concerning the stranger at intervals, should
I have any fresh incidents to record.
August 13th, 17—.
My affection for my guest increases every day. He excites at once my admiration and my pity to an astonishing degree. How can I see so noble a creature destroyed by misery without feeling the most poignant grief? He is so
gentle, yet so wise; his mind is so cultivated; and when he speaks, although
his words are culled with the choicest art, yet they flow with rapidity and
unparalleled eloquence.
He is now much recovered from his illness, and is continually on the
deck, apparently watching for the sledge that preceded his own. Yet, although
unhappy, he is not so utterly occupied by his own misery, but that he
interests himself deeply in the employments of others. He has asked me
many questions concerning my design; and I have related my little history
frankly to him. He appeared pleased with…
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