Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Today is the anniversary of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It’s a scary story in many ways. In addition to the monster and the implications for medicine and science there is also the story of Mrs. Shelley herself. Wife of poet Percy Blythe Shelley she ran herself ragged, competed, depended and sacrificed herself in order to promote her husband's work. She left this majestic book behind. A best seller in 1816 and rarely out of print since, Frankenstein is probably the most beautifully written of all the scary books.

The messages of Shelley’s monster classic are very much a part of our lives now. The questions that she raised so eloquently: What is life? What does it mean to be human? Where will science lead us? are as perplexing now as they were at the dawn of the scientific era. The issue of scientific intrusion into life is at the heart of today’s science news. We proclaim new ways to overcome disability, disease and death, but at what cost and to what limit?

When we hear the name, Frankenstein, a common first response is the image of the lumbering, rivetheaded monster immortalized by Boris Karloff. We picture the creature assembled in the laboratory from body parts, a man so ugly that humans fainted at the sight of him. This common misidentification of Frankenstein tells us how easily we tend to blame the victim and how often we overlook the bad guy. What we so often forget is that in Mary Shelley’s story, the large, disfigured man is simply “The Creature”. Frankenstein is not this patient, the product of medicine and technology, but rather the scientist: Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

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