I intend to examine to what effect concepts of the body, medicine and madness are presented in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). I shall perform close analysis to parts of the text referring to explorations in new technologies, advances in medical science, and there psychological impacts. I shall discuss social implications of the growth of man’s technological evolution during the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
Mary Shelley’s Gothic science-fiction novel Frankenstein (1818) was written and published between two major historical events. It followed The French Revolution (1789-1799) a period of radical social and political upheaval, and was written during The Industrial Revolution between the eighteenth and nineteenth century, a time of great socioeconomic and cultural effects. The French Revolution acted as ‘the single most crucial influence on British intellectual, philosophical, and political life in the nineteenth century.’ (David Cody, French Revolution: 2010). The Industrial Revolution marked ‘the transition from a world of artisan manufacture to a factory system.’ (Shirley Burchill et al. The Industrial Revolution: 2010). The advancements in machine based manufacturing brought social implications of anxiety. Frankenstein can be viewed as a reflection of the turmoil and change seen within society during the eighteenth and nineteenth century, through the explorations and growth in man’s technological evolution.
Frankenstein is an epistolary novel, comprised of letters, journals and diary entries, allowing the reader a sense of verisimilitude – a sense that it might have actually occurred, enabling the author to change points of view when required to further the plot. The story follows a young grief stricken obsessed Swiss medical student Victor Frankenstein and his account to Robert Walton on board his ship on an expedition towards the North Pole. Victor relays his discovery to Walton; the secret of how to create life forming a creature made from human remains given the spark of life through electricity. A popular concept at the time it was written; as there were many scientists who were experimenting in the area of anatomy.
To make his creature, Victor Frankenstein “dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave” and frequented dissecting rooms and slaughterhouses. In Mary Shelley’s day, as in our own, the healthy human form delighted and intrigued artists, physicians, and anatomists. But corpses, decaying tissue, and body parts stirred almost universal disgust. Alive or dead, whole or in pieces, human bodies arouse strong emotion.’ (U.S. National Library of Medicine, Frankenstein: penetrating the secrets of nature; body parts: 1998-2010).
Another popular concept at the time in medical science was Galvanism; ‘during the 1790’s, Italian physician Luigi Galvani demonstrated what we now understand to be electrical basis of nerve impulses when he made frog muscles twitch by jolting them with a spark from an...