Science and Morality in Shelley's Frankenstein - Consequences of Technology

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The Consequences of Technology Revealed in Shelley's Frankenstein

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written in the late

nineteenth century, the author proposes that knowledge and technology can be

dangerous to individuals and all of humanity. Frankenstein was one of the

first cautionary tales about scientific research. Shelley's novel offers

profound insight of the consequences of morally insensitive scientific and

technological research.

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 .
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