Ripples and Rebounds: Tracing the Impact of Frankenstein

Bedford, Alison ORCID: (2018) Ripples and Rebounds: Tracing the Impact of Frankenstein. In: 39th International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts: (ICFA39) '200 Years of the Fantastic: Celebrating Franken­stein and Mary Shelley', 14 Mar - 18 Mar 2018, Orlando, United States.

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When Mary Shelley cast her debut novel Frankenstein into the pool of Romantic culture in 1818 she triggered waves of influence that are still being felt today. Almost immediately, Frankenstein’s creature was adopted and adapted within popular culture. This rapid uptake of the core imagery of the novel will be traced using the Google Advanced Interface tool to show not only the speed of uptake but also the diversity in the ways the imagery of the Creature was utilised. It was not until almost a century after Shelley’s death scholars turned their attention to why the image of Frankenstein’s creature had become so culturally pervasive. For almost a century after Shelley’s initial publication, the ripple effect of responses to the morally ambiguous close of Frankenstein were largely cultural and critical, rather than literary. As Fred Botting suggests in Making Monstrous, there is a doubling (or fragmented mirroring) in the authorship, structure, characters and responses to the novel. This inability to identify a definitive reading of the novel is part of the reason debate continues to rage about whether Brian Aldiss’s famous assertion that Frankenstein is 'the first real novel of science fiction' (1973, 30) is accurate. I propose that this debate stems from the lag time between the novel’s publication and the firm establishment of SF as a genre. This lag can be accounted for by seeing the influence of the novel as a series of ripples that followed out, intersecting with other cultural ideas and discourses, before hitting the ‘shore’ and rebounding back in to the literary space from which they emanated. That is, 'Frankenstein' (the image/term) was absorbed into the zeitgeist before Frankenstein’s (the novel’s) influence on genre was perceptible. We can see Shelley’s novel as a Gothic work, with something ‘superadded’ that is the ripple of the “what if” premise that would rebound back into literature as a fundamental feature of the SF genre. The moral ambiguity of the novel’s closing caused ripples that have had influence upon not only SF as a genre, but, in their interactions with other discourses, established a space where readers can reflect upon scientific endeavours and draw moral boundaries for themselves. This space is now most often occupied by works of SF, and so I argue Shelley’s real legacy to genre is not a series of tropes but rather a new way of exploring the world in which we live (and the worlds in which we might live) through fiction that asks 'what if' and lets us draw our own conclusions. I ultimately propose that in Frankenstein we can see not just the foundation of the nascent SF genre but the creation of a moralising space that is Shelley’s enduring legacy to literature and why her Creature still creates waves in both our culture and scholarship today.

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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Commonwealth Reporting Category E) (Speech)
Refereed: No
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: File reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher/author.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Arts and Communication (1 Jul 2013 - 28 Feb 2019)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Arts and Communication (1 Jul 2013 - 28 Feb 2019)
Date Deposited: 08 Aug 2022 03:47
Last Modified: 31 Aug 2022 04:07
Uncontrolled Keywords: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Foucault, discourse, science fiction
Fields of Research (2020): 47 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 4705 Literary studies > 470504 British and Irish literature
47 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 4702 Cultural studies > 470207 Cultural theory
47 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 4705 Literary studies > 470514 Literary theory
Socio-Economic Objectives (2020): 13 CULTURE AND SOCIETY > 1302 Communication > 130203 Literature
28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280116 Expanding knowledge in language, communication and culture

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