Study Guide

Frankenstein Science

By Mary Shelley

Science Quotes

Natural philosophy is the genius that has regulated my fate; I desire, therefore, in this narration, to state those facts which led to my predilection for that science. (2.6)

In this context, natural philosophy is something like physics. But what if Victor had decided he liked, say, botany? Or chemistry? Is there any kind of science that would have been safe for him to pursue?

If, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains to explain to me that the principles of Agrippa had been entirely exploded and that a modern system of science had been introduced which possessed much greater powers than the ancient, because the powers of the latter were chimerical, while those of the former were real and practical, under such circumstances I should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside and have contented my imagination, warmed as it was, by returning with greater ardour to my former studies. (2.7)

So, science is anything "real" and "practical." In modern terms, we'd call this the scientific method: science is any knowledge that can be acquired through empiricism.

My father was not scientific, and I was left to struggle with a child's blindness, added to a student's thirst for knowledge. (2.9)

Seriously? Frankenstein is trying to make us believe that if his dad has just been smarter, none of this would have happened. (Actually, Frankenstein should probably be glad his dad wasn't a scientist, because then he'd get answers like this.)

By one of those caprices of the mind which we are perhaps most subject to in early youth, I at once gave up my former occupations, set down natural history and all its progeny as a deformed and abortive creation, and entertained the greatest disdain for a would-be science which could never even step within the threshold of real knowledge. In this mood of mind I betook myself to the mathematics and the branches of study appertaining to that science as being built upon secure foundations, and so worthy of my consideration. (2.10)

Something about the way Frankenstein describes this makes it sound like he's a player jumping around from woman to woman looking for one who's "real." (Judging by the way he wants to "penetrate" the secrets of nature, this might actually be a workable analogy.)

Besides, I had a contempt for the uses of modern natural philosophy. It was very different when the masters of the science sought immortality and power; such views, although futile, were grand; but now the scene was changed. The ambition of the inquirer seemed to limit itself to the annihilation of those visions on which my interest in science was chiefly founded. I was required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth. (3.12)

Frankenstein doesn't want to sort fruit flies; he wants to find the secret to immortality. (He should have stuck to fruit flies.)

"The ancient teachers of this science," said he, "promised impossibilities and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera but these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding-places. They ascend into the heavens; they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows. (3.14)

M. Waldman introduces Frankenstein to modern science: we may not be able to turn metals into gold, but we do know how circulation works.

None but those who have experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science. In other studies you go as far as others have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder. (4.2)

Gee, way to crush the spirits of the humanities majors, Frankenstein. We kind of think that if you decide there's nothing more to know, you're doing it wrong—whether "it" is science or underwater basket weaving.

I prepared myself for a multitude of reverses; my operations might be incessantly baffled, and at last my work be imperfect, yet when I considered the improvement which every day takes place in science and mechanics, I was encouraged to hope my present attempts would at least lay the foundations of future success. (4.7)

Frankenstein actually gives us a nice little description here of the scientific method. Sure, your experiment might not work—but then at least you have more information than you did! (Just don't use that as an excuse for a bad grade on a bio test.)

By degrees I made a discovery of still greater moment. I found that these people possessed a method of communicating their experience and feelings to one another by articulate sounds. I perceived that the words they spoke sometimes produced pleasure or pain, smiles or sadness, in the minds and countenances of the hearers. This was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it. (12.9)

Okay, neat little passage here. (1) Using words like "discovery," "found," and "perceived" puts the monster in the role of a scientist here, trying to understand the world through trial and error. (2) He thinks of language itself as a science—which, when you think about it, kind of fits: it's a way of understanding and learning more about the world.

"I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me; I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge." (13.8)

"Sorry, mom, I can't go to school anymore. Learning stuff just makes me depressed."

No? Yeah, it's not much of an excuse. At the same time, haven't we all felt this way at some point? Just reading the newspaper makes us depressed for a week.

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