Monday, September 5th, 2011...9:38 pm

Nature vs. Fantasy

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In Frankenstein, the impossibilities of fantasy are overshadowed by the power and reality of science. By its publication in 1818, electric batteries, steamboats, and locomotives were all recent developments. Dalton had just published his atomic theory, and the first asteroids had been discovered. Science was growing to replace fantasy with evidenced rational, but it was the beginning of a long process.


Frankenstein even begins his life with a less realistic worldview, reading authors like Agrippa and Albertus Magnus. Once at Ingolstadt, he is “required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth” (75). The fantasies he had dreamed of eternal youth and power seemed impossible put next to the realities of his modern world. The magic and mystery of the unknown were more exciting to him than the limits of their modern science.


This all changes for Frankenstein with M. Waldman’s speech at the end of chapter two: no, science has not yet achieved the impossibility of our fantasies, but they have still, Waldman says, “preformed miracles” (76). From this point forwards in the first section, the natural world and sciences are the most powerful forces. Not only is Frankenstein able to bestow life upon his creation; his own life is governed by natural forces around him. He is revived from his fear at returning home by mountains and lakes of Lausanne, the “calm and heavenly scene” (101). There is power in the natural world.


It is a power that science seeks to harness. When, hearing that the murderer of his brother had been captured, Frankenstein (thinking of his creation) exclaims “You might as well try to overtake the winds, or confine a mountain-stream with a straw” (105). For me, this moment works as the birth of science fiction: the abilities of fantasy are no more impressive than those of science, and what we cannot achieve ‘naturally,’ we may still have the possibility to achieve.


  • Do you think that reanimation is a greater impossibility for Shelley’s audience or today’s science-informed one? I’m not sure which is the bigger leap. In fact, I think Shelley’s audience might have accepted the plausibility of it in a way that we simply would not.

    Do you feel like we’re still trying to harness the “power” of the natural world, or is that day now over?

  • Good point– I could see where Shelley’s audience might find the idea more plausible, particularly those who were less educated about biology and other sciences. I’m not sure I have a strong enough understanding of what science was like in 1818 to say for sure, though.

    I would say that we are absolutely still trying to harness the “power” of the natural world, probably more today than we were then. After all, what else are solar panels and wind turbines? Even fossil fuels are a way of harnessing the natural world’s power!

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