While a utopia is a work of fiction describing a place with “perfect” social, political, and moral aspects,

And a dystopia is a work of fiction describing a place with deprivation, oppression, or terror,

Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN is a critique.

(and the most popular FRANKENSTEIN movie is a *different* critique!)


Many activists working on getting voting rights and other rights for women were also fighting for other rights and laws.

Many British feminists in the 1800s were also concerned about vivisection, animal rights, and medical experimentation.

Vivisection is live dissection on animals without anaesthesia.

[remember my comment, in the slave narratives unit, that many feminists got sidelined by fighting for other issues rather than feminism?]

Surgical techniques were quite primitive in the 1800s, as you doubtless know. There were no antibiotics, and there was no reliable anesthesia.

Doctors didn’t realize that using instruments that weren’t sterile could cause septic infections.

Many women like Mary Wollstonecraft died in childbirth. Ironically, lower ranking women without money, who could not afford doctors, were more likely to survive childbirth.

Medical care is still a women's issue.


Some particularly ignorant doctors were not aware that animals had the same types of pain receptors as humans.

Some particularly ignorant doctors considered women to be less than human.

Women are encouraged to not use anesthesia for "normal female functions" like childbirth -- even by feminists.

Women midwives were the childbirth experts before (male, at the time) doctors established they were in charge.

Now, in some countries, women can only be treated by female doctors. Is this good? Bad?

All of these issues are still “hot” issues today:
How to test things like drugs for organ transplants?
Medical testing has been performed mostly on men, especially men in the military. This has led to a view of men as the “default” for humans, which is in fact not the case. This has led to procedures and medicines which are less effective in helping female patients than male patients.

Research progress on female-specific ailments is slower than progress on male-specific problems


Vivisection presents an ethical problem.

“Vivisection is the exploitation of living animals for experiments concerning the phenomena of life.”


FRANKENSTEIN is concerned with the phenomena of life, and scientific (medical) investigations of life.


The science of human duty; the body of rules of duty drawn from this science; a particular system of principles and rules concerting duty, whether true or false; rules of practice in respect to a single class of human actions; as, political or social ethics; medical ethics.


How can society balance the benefits of new science against ethical considerations? What is “acceptable”? Who decides?

What are the roots of modern science? How is science “patriarchal”? Is science/technology/medicine essentially “male”?


The creature’s creation presents several ethical problems.

These include problems of identity, since the creature is an assemblage, existence of a “soul,” “mind,” and “heart” (is the “mind” the brain? Where is a soul located?).


What is the difference between life and death?
When does life begin? When does it end (these are often considered “boundary conditions – easier-to-solve cases of “how was life made”, “how can life be made”).

And what is the difference between women and men?

Are gender and ethics societal constructs or medical reality?

Does life have an inherent value? What if it is manufactured in some way? Is it “less” than life?

Are some lives more valuable than others?

Shelley wrote to support herself and her children after her husband died.

What does FRANKENSTEIN say about parenthood?

Motherhood? Yet Mary Shelley didn’t know her mother.

Because of the profit involved, she also edited Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poems (her husband's poems, even though he left her before he died).

Mona Caird was a woman writer writing against vivisection (experiments on animals -- at the time, they did experiments without anesthetic on animals and WOMEN argued it was inethical:


Another woman like this is Francis Cobbe:


Elisabeth Blackwell:


If you want to broaden from Frankenstein, you might peruse these materials for additional comment on women writers about clinical research and ethics!


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