In perhaps the best chapter in a book analyzing the Romantic poets, Klavan turns to Mary Shelley (1797–1851), the teenage author of Frankenstein. Shelley was not a Romantic poet, Klavan admits, but she was married to a Romantic poet (Percy Shelley, ) and was greatly influenced by the Romantics of her era.
The common conclusion is that Frankenstein is about man’s attempt to usurp God. Even Shelley herself stated that about her book. “But I don’t think this is what the novel is about at all,” Klavan posits.
To me, the greatness of the story, the horror of the story, and the threat to humanity the story portrays lie in the fact that Frankenstein has usurped the power not of God but of women. He has made a man without a mother. His science has eliminated the principle of femininity from the creation of human life.Andrew Klavan, The Truth and Beauty: How the Lives and Works of England’s Greatest Poets Point the Way to a Deeper Understanding of the Words of Jesus, pp. 75-76
He’s not the only one to point out this theme. English professor Karen Swallow Prior has said the same:
This is a novel in which motherlessness is a defining quality. Several minor and major plot elements tie to motherlessness directly, but the most central is Frankenstein’s attempt to create a life on his own, as a man, without a woman, thereby producing a motherless creature. In so doing, Frankenstein denies the very necessity of women.Karen Swallow Prior, Frankenstein: A Guide to Reading and Reflecting, pp. 22-23
Frankenstein was a groundbreaking novel (1818) that created the sci-fi genre. Ever since, Klavan writes, sci-fi stories have expressed an inherent battle between women and technology. Brave New World, The Matrix, The Terminator — Klavan lists several classic books and blockbuster films that portray advanced technology usurping women or seeking their elimination entirely.
Is this merely a fictional coincidence? Or does Frankenstein – and its sci-fi descendants – reflect a truth? Is there really a dystopian tendency for technology to eliminate femininity?
You can watch him discuss his theory here:
Note: Curiously, Ada Augusta Lovelace, an early computer pioneer, was the daughter of Lord Byron, a famous Romantic poet and an associate of Shelley. See Lovelace: The programmer who spooked Alan Turing Ada Lovelace understood her mentor Charles Babbage’s plans for his new Analytical Engine and was better than he at explaining what it could do. Turing thought that computers could be got to think. Thus he had to address Lovelace’s objection from a century earlier, that they could not be creative.