Sympathy and Science in Frankenstein

  • Janis McLarren Caldwell


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.


Social Sympathy Cautionary Tale Romantic Poet Physiologic Sympathy Somatic Constitution 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janis McLarren Caldwell

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