THE VIRTUAL HISTORY OF ARTIFICIAL BEINGS
Drawing on this background, Mary Shelley described a scientific approach to creating life.Victor, as a boy, is exposed to the scientific wonders of the time: the electrical nature of lightning and the behav- ior of steam, the air pump and the electrical spark generator. First drawn to the magical methods of Albertus Magnus, he later studies chemistry and anatomy to prepare him to consider the “principle of life.” (Victor’s exposure to science is probably modeled on Percy Shelley’s youthful interests.At Eton and Oxford, the poet was known to tinker with chemical and electrical apparatus.)
When Victor discovers how to animate dead matter, the secret is not revealed to us, but the moment of animation is clearly a scientific process. There are no magic words, no divine intervention; rather, Victor tells us, after completing the construction of the body:
It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils.With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.
Film versions of the tale have taken those “instruments of life” as chemical or electrical. In Thomas Edison’s short 1910 film, the Being is born in a chemical reaction; in Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein, a light- ning bolt animates the Being through two electrodes in its neck; and in the 1942 sequel The Ghost of Frankenstein, as Ygor resurrects the Being, he tells it “Your father was Frankenstein, but your mother was lightning.”
In the book, the Being that science animates is not intrinsically destructive. It becomes so only after Victor abandons it, because de- spite years of effort, the scientist is horror-struck when the creature stirs:
Now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room. . . .
The Being is rebuffed again when it later approaches Victor, and yet again when it tries to befriend a family, which flees in horror.
Embittered by these rejections, the Being kills Victor’s brother, and arranges matters so that an innocent person hangs for the crime. But whenVictor pursues it, the Being pours out its heart: