Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 May 2006
If the power of reflecting on the past, and darting the keen eye of contemplation into futurity, be the grand privilege of man, it must be granted that some people enjoy this prerogative in a very limited degree. Every thing new appears to them wrong; and not able to distinguish the possible from the monstrous, they fear where no fear should find a place, running from the light of reason, as if it were a firebrand.(Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman )
The Creature’s descendants
In an age of reproductive technology, cloning, artificial intelligence, and robotics, has Frankenstein's futurity come to pass? Are we living in the time Mary Shelley foreshadowed? Perhaps so, although the author did not think of her work as prophesying the future. Shelley was much more interested in the science of her own day than in looking ahead. She uses the word “futurity,” an old-fashioned noun meaning a time to come, only once in the novel, and it has nothing to do with fearful prophecies. Rather, it appears in a letter Elizabeth Lavenza writes to reassure Victor that she still wants to marry him; he plays a lead role, she tells him, in all her “airy dreams of futurity” (F 1818, III V 130). Though Mary Shelley, writing in 1816, set her novel in the late eighteenth century, Frankenstein, perhaps more than any other novel, has been interpreted as a warning about impending events. As a cautionary tale, Frankenstein has had an illustrious career; virtually every catastrophe of the last two centuries - revolution, rampant industrialism, epidemics, famines, World War I, Nazism, nuclear holocaust, clones, replicants, and robots - has been symbolized by Shelley's monster. If Shelley's work is the first futuristic novel, as some critics have claimed, then the genre of science fiction was inaugurated as a warning, not a promise, about the world of tomorrow.
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