Electricity, Science, and Frankenstein

The medium through which Shelley was able to abandon the supernatural and pursue the scientific was electricity. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries there were to opposing views on electricity. Romantics believed that electricity was in fact a fluid force, which was not bound by laws of science. For example, the previously mentioned Luis Galvani believed that electricity existed in the tissue and was a force of life. In his work Mesmerists, Monsters, and Machines, Martin Willis states, “The novel highlights the equivocal position of the scientist undertaking electrical research by drawing together various positions held by the Romantic and the materialist camps in their struggle for scientific authority” (Willis 64). This connects to the previous sentiments about the mixture of Romanticism and rational science that Victor Frankenstein encounters during his life. Romantics believed electricity to be a universal force. If Romantics could prove that science was in fact a fluid force it would legitimize their beliefs of natural forces uncontrollable through science. Materialists, or scientists, wanted to prove electricity to be a natural form of matter without any Romantic forces. These two opposing views come to a peculiar intersection Shelley’s work.

Martin Willis argues that the Monster is formed from materialist science, not the Romantic view. Willis’ point is that if the monster were to have been formed via notions of Romantic electricity, it would not have been a monster at all. Instead, the less popular materialist electricity was the scientific mechanism for creating life in Victor Frankenstein’s monster. As a result, humanity did not know how to handle the Monster. In encounters with the Monster humans were repulsed and scared. In fact, nothing is noticeably wrong with the Monster with the exception of his eyes, which are described as empty or missing something. Here we arrive at the real base of the issue between Romantics and scientists. A Romantic monster would not be a monster at all because the natural forces of electricity and the world would have provided the Monster with a soul. This would of course be a more supernatural creation and stray from the course that Mary Shelley used. Instead, the monster is soulless because it was created by rational science that by rule excludes natural forces and souls. In his work Willis wonders what is exactly wrong with the Monsters composition, “Yet even if the creature is gigantic, he is physically human. There must therefore be something integral to the creature’s total constitution that is inhuman and other” (Willis 79). The nature of the Monster’s materialist creation is what not only makes it a monster but what makes this a work of science fiction.

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