“With knowledge comes personal responsibility; the denial of responsibility leads to tragic outcomes” (1)
The Age of Enlightenment paved a road for new ideas to take their place over old, outdated traditional beliefs. The central idea that the human capacity to reason should be the arbiter of scientific discovery and political progress is fundamental to the modern world. The typical concerns of enlightenment such as grasping the power of human intelligence to understand and explain nature in a new and exciting way through empirical science has led to numerous breakthroughs in the way the world is now understood. The explanations brought about by religion to understand nature were being discredited and the miracles were demystified in this age, with knowledge becoming the truth and reason and rationality the code of morality not God. Enlightenment art and literature were also used to spread the discoveries made through the thirst for knowledge, but not all classic literature, such as ‘Frankenstein’ sought to engage with the enlightenment in a wholly positive manner.
Mary Shelley’s novel ‘Frankenstein’, set in Geneva, known for its Enlightenment ideas with thinkers such as Jean Jacque Rousseau, is a Romanticist overview of the dangers of mankind’s rapid scientific endeavor brought about by the Age of Enlightenment. The Romanticists Emphasized freedom of individual self expression, spontaneity and sincerity. Romanticism became the new standard in literature, replacing the imitation of classical models favored by eighteenth century neoclassicism. The Romantics rejected the ordered rationality of the Enlightenment as mechanical, impersonal, and artificial. They turned to the emotional directness of personal experience and to the boundlessness of individual imagination and aspiration. Increasingly independent of the declining system of aristocratic patronage, they saw themselves as free spirits expressing their own imaginative truths; several found admirers ready to hero worship the artist as a genius or prophet.(2)
The dangers of a passionate thirst for knowledge without divine morality, encapsulated by the Age of Enlightenment, are given centre stage by Victor Frankenstein’s creation of the seemingly grotesque monster. The novel shows the dangers of this quest of human discovery by highlighting the bringing to life of the inanimate that ultimately destroys its creator. The subtitle ‘A modern Prometheus’ shows us this, that the sharing of knowledge as Prometheus the mythological Titan did, who stole fire from the Gods, led him to punishment, just as Victor Frankenstein attempted in his creation and just as some prolific examples in the modern world have gone to show. It is therefore my intention in this essay to argue that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a proleptic on the dangers of irresponsible scientific enthusiasm pushing mankind further away from the morality of the divine.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote Frankenstein in 1816, an era that bore witness to the continuing Industrial revolution, and the Enlightenment logic of the French Revolution. The novel is deemed as a romanticist revision of enlightenment ideas. The novel doesn’t necessarily oppose natural scientific discovery and progress, but is a stark warning of the potential of scientific irresponsibility and the consequences that could occur. The novel uses the conflict between Romanticism and Enlightenment by showing the ills of Enlightenment discovery the desire for knowledge drawing on the example of creating life or playing God. The Romantics see the Enlightenment as drawing away from nature (David Voelker), and that the continued reasoning of the people during this movement would eventually lead to the destruction of the Enlightenment thinkers...