Frankenstein: Technology


In Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, written in the late
nineteenth century by Mary Shelley, Shelley proposes that knowledge and its
effects can be dangerous to individuals and all of humanity. Frankenstein was
one of our first and still is one of our best cautionary tales about scientific
research.. Shelley\'s novel is a metaphor of the problems technology is causing
today. Learn from me. . . 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 (Shelley 101)
The popular belief of how Frankenstein came to be written derives from
Shelley herself, who explains in an introduction to the novel that she , her
husband Percy Shelly, and Lord Byron set themselves the task of creating ghost
stories during a short vacation at a European villa. According to Shelley, the
short story she conceived was predicated of the notion as the eighteenth became
the nineteenth century that electricity could be a catalyst of life. in her
introduction she recalls the talk about Erasmus Darwin, who had preserved a
piece of vermicelli in a glass case, till by some extraordinary means it began
to move with voluntary motion," (Joseph vii). The extraordinary means forms the
basis for Frankenstein. Many people also believe that a nightmare that Mary
Shelley had could also be partly responsible for the creation of the novel.
At the time the novel was written, England was on the brink of leading
the Industrial revolution in Europe. The experiments of Huntsman (crucible
steel manufacture), Newcome (steam-powered pumps), and Cochrane (coal tar
production) throughout the eighteenth century in England were decisive in the
initial transformation of England into an industrialized country (Burke 137, 173,
195). The emerging age of technology appears to have found followers throughout
the culture and to have become firmly reinforced by the time Frankenstein was
written. Eric Rabkin (author), says that in England early in the eighteenth
century, "there exist a populous discourse community that accepted the rhetoric
of science" (Rabkin 39). This rhetoric has proof extending back to the English
Renaissance. Those sensitive to change and those prepared to embrace a rhetoric
of change need not be scientists. While scientists address a discourse
community of scientists, novelists address a wider discourse community of
the literate. If we can accept the earlier argument that science and poetry
are not ontologically antagonistic, then we might well hope to find fictional
uses of the rhetoric of science . . . in texts scattered from Francis Bacon\'s
time to the present. These uses would change as the prevailing first principles
of the time evolved under the impact the advances brought by science and as the
consequent needs of artist also changed . . .
In the early seventeenth century, when the prevailing first principles
in the artist\'s discourse community were theological, Bacon, as we have seen,
used the authority of theology to validate the rhetoric of science. As science
and technology and the persuasiveness of the rhetoric of science changed the
world and the way people viewed it, the competing authorities changed their
balance until today the rhetoric of science is used to lend authority to
religion (Rankin 25, 37).
Tillyard confirms the proof of science and technology as firmly
established in Mary Shelley\'s lifetime by quoting a book on Homer that
proclaimed England\'s arts improving and its sciences advancing. Tillyard\'s
point is that "the eighteenth-century myth of freedom in England included the
doctrine of progress" ( Tillyard 106). The doctrine of progress is connected
with the emerging doctrine of industrialization and science. It was this
doctrine, seemingly inside by English scholars and popular culture, although
reflected by imagination it may have been, that it can be said to have provided
scientific proof for Frankenstein. Rankin states that "Shelley had written a
palpable fable and she knew that its full effect depended on authorizing some
possibility of belief" (Rankin 42). Science provided in the novel provided
that authority, creating a foundation story in what the English culture current
with Mary Shelley would have taken as real world possibility. The rhetoric of
science in fiction is not merely a modern overlay on storytelling, nor is it
employed, except fortuitously, to convey newly discovered information about the
world. Once upon a time fiction, which obviously is not true, took its
authority form the Muse: at other times from the Bible. Neither of these
sources of authority would do for Shelley, but authority has always to be found
somewhere if we are to distinguish the lies