Frankenstein and Radical Science By Marilyn Butler Summary
The article reviews the novel Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, which was published in 1818. Butler (1996) commences the review by acknowledging that the novel is famously interpretable as it can fit any time period. People can interpret it either as an illusion or a metaphor for different things in any time period. Butler then elucidates that one year after the novel was published, the public heavily criticized it due to the controversial type of science it represented. As people gained more awareness of the scientific realm the novel became less famous since people no longer found it radical and exciting.
The article also elucidates that the reason Mary Shelley wrote considerably accurately on scientific topics is that she was friends with William Lawrence, a respected science writer. Lawrence also influenced Shelley’s view of humans and life through his writing regarding natural science. Due to Lawrence’s influence, at one time, many people interpreted Shelley’s writings as an attack on religion (Butler, 1996). Butler points out that many of Lawrence’s themes on natural science can be found in Frankenstein. For instance, the theme of a man as a domesticated animal.
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Other themes that Shelley tackled on include fosterage and nurturance, heredity, sexual selection, and the perverse choices which can lead to extinction. Butler (1996) elucidates that these types of ideas were not widely accepted during the late 19th century hence the harsh criticism that Shelley faced. Butler also explains that the novel alluded that the primitive human during that time was far from the sophisticated human that they can be. In the novel, this is evident in instances such as when the creature attempts to nurture Frankenstein; when he kills a rabbit for him.
Lastly, the article explains how Lawrence was condemned for his views. This left Shelly in a predicament for publishing a book that people considered blasphemous. Due to the pressure, Shelley re-published a new edition of the novel in 1831. The new edition depicted Frankenstein as a relatively more religious character. Shelly removed a lot of scientific background about Frankenstein from the book. She also took out most of the genetic material about Frankenstein’s family. The revised edition allowed people to interpret the plot as they liked since most of the obvious themes of evolution theory had been eliminated (Butler, 1996).
Critical Response to Frankenstein and Radical Science
The reading did not alter my understanding/interpretation of Frankenstein. The review addressed most of the themes found in the novel such as why Shelly wrote accurately on scientific matters, the reason she revised her first edition, the cultural challenge facing scientific writings, et cetera. Whereas the article was compelling, it dwelled so much on what influenced Shelley’s writing rather than on the interpretation of the novel. For instance, Butler did not provide an interpretation of the message the novel sought to relay.
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The popular interpretation of Frankenstein is that it is a cautionary story about scientific hubris. However, this is not the only interpretation. The book is multilayered and full of ambivalences, hence opening a gateway for many interpretations. One such interpretation is that Frankenstein’s moral shortcoming was not his attempt to mock the astonishing mechanism of God but rather that once his creation work was successful he ran away from his creation leaving him without parental care.
The lack of parental care and companionship frustrated the creature leading it to become a monster. After being abandoned by Frankenstein the creature sought companionship and friendship from others but they also rejected it due to its hideous appearance. It is after this rejection that the creature turned into a monster in its endeavor to avenge the injustice done to it (Shelley, 1818).
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Thus, Frankenstein is a cautionary tale to scientists. Scientists must take responsibility for their technological creations to ensure that they facilitate positive outcomes. Responsible and accountable scientific explorations underpinned by a strong ethical framework are essential to all aspects of life including health care, communication, the corporate world, education, et cetera. Thus, playing God was not the moral shortcoming of Frankenstein but rather the irresponsibility to his scientific creation (Van Den Belt, 2018). Besides, if scientists do not play God, who will? To sum up, Butler’s review is compelling but not thorough.