"Frankenstein's Footsteps" by John Turney

Frankenstein's Footsteps Science, Genetics and Popular Culture John Turney

Publication date:
10 Sep 2000
Yale University Press
286 pages: 235 x 156mm
40 b-w illus.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a tale crafted two centuries ago "to awaken thrilling horror," is a story that speaks to deep fears and desires that lie at the heart of our response to biological science. Tracing the history of the development of biological science and how it has been received and understood by the public in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Jon Turney’s intriguing book argues that the Frankenstein story governs much of today’s debate about the onrushing new age of biotechnology.

Popular images of biological science have been influenced by Mary Shelley and such literary descendants as H. G. Wells, Jack London, Karel Capek, and Aldous Huxley, as well as by pulp writers, journalists, essayists, filmmakers, and other commentators. This book examines how these images have developed as the growth of experimental methods has created a biology with real power to control and manipulate life. Frankenstein’s shadow is long, Turney finds. It has affected the debates over vivisection in Victorian Britain, early twentieth-century responses to the widely advertised possibility of laboratory creation of life, and current controversies about test-tube babies, genetic engineering, and cloning. But the Frankenstein story may have outlived its usefulness as a frame for interpreting the significance of real, as opposed to fictional, science. Recognizing the need to understand the old stories, Turney calls also for new ones to help shape and regulate the unprecedented set of possibilities biological science now offers for fashioning life to suit our own ends.