Frankenstein and “The Labours of Men of Genius”: Science and Medical Ethics in the Early 19th Century
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Franz Anton Mesmer
History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
Literature in English, British Isles
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AbstractMary Shelley’s Frankenstein, first published in 1818, used a sprawling network of allusions to contemporary literary and scientific works, which strongly reflected Romantic scientific and literary ideology. The robust connections between Romantic artistic and scientific circles included personal and professional relationships, scientists writing literary works, and authors discussing scientific advances. The closely linked scientific and artistic community helped define science and the nature of life in the new era. Medical historians have not fully discussed the debate concerning medical ethics in this period, detailing earlier Enlightenment medical ethics and later Romantic medical developments, which more closely resemble modern scientific values. The transition period discussed in this essay has no set beginning and end, but gaps in research specific to developing medical ethics tend to occur from approximately the early 1780s to the late 1820s. Frankenstein is a conscious example of a writer critiquing prevailing scientific views of the day and the text offers historians insight into developments during this significant period of transition in medical ethics.