A Question of Identity: Women, Science, and Literature

By Marina Benjamin | Go to book overview
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The Male Scientist, Man-Midwife, and Female Monster: Appropriation and Transmutation in Frankenstein

Marie Mulvey Robeds

Acknowledging the textuality of scientific discourse entails scrutinizing our understanding of the relationship between literature and science, particularly with respect to the degree to which literary metaphors can be regarded as constitutive of science rather than merely exegetical. Constitutive metaphors have the power to "disseminate" meanings within and beyond the parameters of science and in so doing can enable us to understand the dynamics of scientific and social change. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein ( 1818) allegorizes the way in which science is not always in control of its metaphors by reminding us that men can lose control of the monsters they themselves create. At the same time, the Frankenstein creation may be seen as a trope for the monstrosities produced by the female imagination; such monstrosities are shaped by patriarchal anxieties surrounding the woman writer who has shifted her creativity from the exclusively biological to the cerebral. Not surprisingly, male Romantic artists and scientists who appropriated the female experience of pregnancy and birth through metaphoric, or what could more generally be described as tropological, language encountered no such deep-seated concerns. While women were marginalized and excluded from maledominated areas of science, medicine, and literature, men enjoyed the advantages of a dynamic and dialectical interplay between that which had been culturally programmed as masculine and that which had been constructed as feminine primarily through their appropriation of the female mind and body. 1

Of these processes of feminization in the arts and sciences, Mary Shelley must have been aware. Indeed the prototype of the male scientist as sole procreator and midwife is Victor Frankenstein, who, by creating a being without a female, gave birth to a monstrosity--as


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A Question of Identity: Women, Science, and Literature


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