The Science of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein #SciFiSunday


If anyone who isn’t a Science Fiction Person asks you what the First Science Fiction Book is, and they expect that you’ll reference some nerdy old guy (not that there’s anything wrong with that), you can absolutely blow their mind by saying, “Well, the first science fiction novel was a book written by the wife of major English poet Percy Shelly, daughter of pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, and extraordinary scholar and writer, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, a book you’ve probably heard of: Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.” Because of it’s association with scary movies, we sometimes think of Frankenstein as horror, or perhaps dark fantasy — but the original novel is, in intent, execution, and theme, much more in the realm of science fiction. Here’s more from the UK Science Museum:

Daughter of pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and radical philosopher William Godwin, Mary Shelley grew up surrounded by the leading scientists, writers and politicians of the 18th Century. She took a keen interest in science, reading widely and attending lectures on the cutting-edge scientific theories of the day. During this period, debates were raging about the boundaries between life and death, and whether such matters should be probed in the first place.

Shelley was aware of the debates taking place about the so called ‘life-principle’ between William Abernethy and William Lawrence at the Royal College of Surgeons about the origins of the human life force. Abernethy argued that life was a kind of vital ‘spark’ which was ‘superadded’ to the material body to animate it: a body that powers up once the ‘spark’ is added, like a clock starting to tick after it’s been wound-up. In contrast, Lawrence argued that life was within the body itself, produced simply through its functioning parts: part of the same whole, trying to extricate life and the body is like extracting egg from a baked cake.

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