Did Mary Shelley create Science Fiction

It is tough to live up to your parents’ expectations. Who could have known this better than Mary Shelley, the daughter of two of the most radical and prominent philosophers of the eighteenth century? Mary Shelley was the child of William Godwin, a major political philosopher of Britain and Mary Wollstonecraft, a.k.a, the mother of feminism, who in her trailblazing work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman laid forth the argument of women’s emancipation in a patriarchal society, which essentially required women to just “procreate and rot”. Today, Mary Shelley remains as widely read as her parents (perhaps even more, because who doesn’t prefer a good gothic story over a political treatise), largely owing to her debut fictional work Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus (1818) which not only became a seminal gothic work, but also kicked off the larger genre of science-fiction. Yes, you read that right! The genre of science-fiction was inaugurated by a young woman, who was only twenty-one when one of the most influential work of literature was published in 1818.

While continuing in her mother’s footsteps, Shelley did work for the outcast women in the society, but the trait of feminist awareness in her work was largely ignored. It wasn’t until the feminist criticism in the late twentieth-century that critics uncovered an implicit attack on science and patriarchy in her gothic novel Frankenstein, showing Shelley’s awareness of the subjugation of women in a world-driven by reason, science and patriarchy. This might come as a surprise because Frankenstein barely features any strong, independent female character and ironically most of the female characters die by the novel’s culmination. However, it was precisely in the negation of female characters, that Shelley sought to explore her most relevant question.

The death of female characters in the novel is alone to raise enough feminist eyebrows to question how science and development is essentially a masculine enterprise and subjugates women

Frankenstein revolves around its eponymous character, Victor Frankenstein, an ambitious scientist who tries to undo nature’s cycle by bringing back the dead to life. In his isolated laboratory, Victor manages to reanimate a corpse – but disgusted at his own monstrous creation, he abandons it. The creature, wanting to be loved and accepted by the world, is filled with wrath against his master and wreaks havoc on his life, asking for a female companion to compensate for his isolated existence. Victor initially agrees, but realizing that his creatures might procreate and lead to the annihilation of the human race, Victor tears his female creation to pieces. The monster swears revenge, leading to an ultimate tragedy.

The death of female characters in the novel is alone to raise enough feminist eyebrows to question how science and development is essentially a masculine enterprise and subjugates women (a theory later championed by ecofeminism). However, the most thought-provoking feminist reading of the novel has been done by scholar Anne Mellor in her book Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters where Mellor states that Frankenstein is a feminist critique of science itself. The creation of a new being is done by Victor solely without any female assistance, which is both unnatural and patriarchal. Mellor notes,