Sympathy and Science in Frankenstein

  • Janis McLarren Caldwell

Abstract

Over the last two decades, the field of biomedical ethics has claimed Frankenstein as its classic narrative, a cautionary tale warning that science divorced from ethics will produce monsters. But Frankenstein is a critique, not so much of an amoral science, as of a conflation of scientific and moral theory — in the theory of physiologic sympathy. In Frankenstein’s strange world, both scientifically modern and gothically melodramatic, everybody is searching for sympathy, which functions as both a natural, material principle and the highest ideal of social interaction. The theory of physiologic sympathy, however, posits fragile bodies, susceptible to contagion and collapse. Under this model, social sympathy is safe only for people of nearly identical psychological and somatic constitutions. Shelley critiques the Romantic attempt to resolve science and ethics into a theory of physiologic sympathy, which she depicts as a narcissistic reduction, impatiently and prematurely synthetic, and therefore brittle in its demand for universal similitude, harmony, and unity.

Keywords

Permeability Fatigue Brittle Posit Ghost 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus: The 1818 Text, ed. James Rieger (University of Chicago Press, 1982) 13, 22. Subsequent references to this edition will be given in parentheses in the main text.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    David Hartley, Observations on Man, His Frame, His Duty, and His Expectations (1749; Gainesville, FL: Scholar’s Facsimiles and Reprints, 1966) 13.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    George Cheyne, The Natural Method of Cureing the Diseases of the Body, and the Disorders of the Mind Depending on the Body (London, 1742) 82–3.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951) 576.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Quoted in John Mullan, Sentiment and Sociability (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988) 26.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Robert Whytt, Observations on the Nature, Causes, and Cure of Those Disorders Which Have Been Called Nervous, Hypochondriac, or Hysteric (Edinburgh, 1765) 213–14.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    William Hazlitt, Essay on the Principles of Human Action (1805), reprinted in English Romantic Writers, ed. David Perkins (San Diego: Harcourt, 1967) 41.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ibid., 39.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Beth Newman, ‘Narratives of Seduction and the Seductions of Narrative: The Frame Structure of Frankenstein’, English Literary History, 53 (1986) 141–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Anne K. Mellor, ‘Frankenstein: A Feminist Critique of Science’, in One Culture, ed. George Levine (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    D.M. Knight, ‘The Physical Sciences and the Romantic Movement’, History of Science 9 (1970) 54–75; 59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Thomas Frosch, ‘The New Body of English Romanticism’, Soundings, 54, 4 (1971) 372–87; 380.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    G. J. Barker-Benfield, The Culture of Sensibility (University of Chicago Press, 1992) 21–3.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Peter Brooks, Body Work (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993) 201.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    John Keats, Letters, ed. Robert Gittings (Oxford University Press, 1970) 43.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janis McLarren Caldwell

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations