Science Fiction & Feminism Sci-Fi & Feminism Chapter
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SCIENCE FICTION & FEMINISM
Sci-Fi & Feminism
Origins & Evolution of Science Fiction
As with most things including literature, science fiction has progressed and changed a lot over the years. Many works of science fiction were simply rough copies and following the altready-established patterns of prior authors. However, there has always been authors and creators that push the envelope and forge new questions and storylines that have not been realized or conceptualized before. As it relates to science fiction, this started in earnest in the late 19th and early 20th century.
19th and early 20th Century
Given the amount of time that has passed since then, the science fiction visionaries of the 19th century are well-known to anyone that studies or follows the subject. Perhaps the most well-known name was that of Mary Shelley and her work Frankenstein as published in 1818. Many, but not all, people who are scholars of the science fiction genre assert that this was the first contribution to the genre (Armitt, 1991). It is also the first instance where a scientist is shown to have gone rogue and become a "mad scientist." The story of Frankenstein, otherwise known as The Modern Prometheus, was a novel written about a mad scientist by the name of Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein actually ends up creating a monster that is self-aware and full alive using some rather interesting tactics and methods. Many people attribute the name Frankenstein to the monster he eventually creates, but that is actually incorrect as it was only the scientists. As it turns out via the narrative in the book, Victor Frankenstein is trying to recreate and reform a rather large man that was spotted and recounted by Captain Robert Walton, a man who desired to explore the North Pole. This is how the monster becomes an idea and an obsession for Victor and eventually his creation (Shelley, 1996; James & Mendlesohn, 2003).
There are heavy influences from the women in Victor's life, so feminism and women-focused thought is definitely there. For example, Victor gains an adopted sister when he is five by the name of Elizabeth Lavenza. He eventually falls in love with this sister. On the tragedy side of the spectrum, there is the loss of Victor's mother to scarlet fever. This drives Victor Frankenstein into his work even more. Another female-related event happens when there is a murder of Victor's brother William. The primary suspect for that crime, and the person eventually hung for the offense, was William's nanny Justine. Victor personally thinks the Monster (his creation) did the crime but he does not believe that anyone would believe him if he tried to tell them as much. The Monster then faces a bit of rejection here and there and eventually demands female companionship because the females and other people already in the world reject him. The rest of the book is one act of violence against another, a lot of it perpetrated against women. The Monster is pursued by Victor to the North Pole but Victor does not kill him even though the Monster had killed many of his beloved including Elizabeth (Shelley, 1996; James & Mendlesohn, 2003; Biography, 2015).
Mary Shelly was actually quite young when she wrote the book. Also, it is clear that this is obviously the first intersection of feminism and science fiction as the first science fiction book ever written was written by a woman and a young woman at that. An asterisk to the above is that her name was not attached to the first edition as printed in 1818. Only when the second edition was printed in 1823 was her name associated with the book. The book was anonymous for its first printing. Shelley actually dabbled in a lot of different arts and habits but they all centered on
...Not only did she do a lot of fiction (e.g. Frankenstein), but she also did a lot of non-fiction work such as travel work and biographies. She lived a long and storied life until passing in 1851 at the age of 53. As the math would indicate, Mary Shelley was a scant twenty years old when Frankenstein was completed and she started writing it when she was only 18 years old (Shelley, 1996; James & Mendlesohn, 2003; Biography, 2015).
Other names that are tossed around sometimes predate Shelley because they contain at least elements of what is now commonly associated with science fiction such as utopias, aliens, the general concept behind a mad scientists and so forth. For example, the mad scientist approach that Shelley took is asserted to have started with the work of Shakesphere when he wrote The Tempest. As far as utopias, one could argue that New Atlantis by Francis Bacon had a utopian feel to it, although that book was never completed. Both of those works were started and/or finished in the 17th century…roughly two centuries before Mary Shelley got her foot in the proverbial door (Shelley, 1996; James & Mendlesohn, 2003; Biography, 2015).
However, even is the proverbial door was already open a crack when Shelley got to it, she kicked it open and others followed her at around the same time or shortly thereafter. Other examples from the 19th century would include The Last Man in 1805 by Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville, Le Roman de l'Avenir in 1834 by Felix Bodin, Le Monde Tel Qu'il Sera in 1846 by Emile Souvestre, the Mummy by Jane Loudon in 1827, Louis Geoffroy's Napolean et la Conquete du Monde in 1836, Defontenay's Star ou Psi de Cassiopee in 1854, Camille Flammarion's L. Pluralite des Mondes Habites in 1862 and Edward Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race in 1871. Each of those works set a new pathway that had not been explored before or at least not in the precise way that was done by that author (James & Mendlesohn, 2003; DePauw, 2015).
The work of Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainvill was a prose poem that was actually published before Shelley's Frankenstein, being that his work predated hers by more than ten years. What made this work science fiction in the eyes of many is that it talked about a planet Earth that was in the process of dying off. It was indeed a depiction of the wend of the world. The basic plot is that a man is studying a care in Syria. A spirit appears to the man it is soon revealed that the earth is becoming steril and thus people having new children will no longer be possible. Ergo, it will only be a matter of time before the people of the planet are dead and gone due to the inability to reproduce and keep the world replenished from a population standpoint. The plot then involves traveling to see Syderia, the last fertile woman, as well as Adam as depicted in the Christian Bible. It is revealed that God has decided the world shall end and that is what ends up happening eventually (James & Mendlesohn, 2003; DePauw, 2015).
As for the works that came after Shelley as mentioned before, they each explained and covered elements that were unique and cutting-edge at the time. Bodin and Souvestre both surmise and try to guess as to what the coming centuries of history will be like. Jane Loudin speaks of a person who is resurrected like Lazarus and this occurs while the world is in political crisis. Concurrent to this crisis is the presence of technology that involves gas-flame jewelry and houses that can be moved from place to place via a series of rails. The work of Louis Geoffroy was different and new in that it explored what would have happened if Napoleon had indeed not failed and had conquered the world. In other words, it was a bit of exploring alternative realities and timelines. Defontenay's work looked at an alien world and civilization while Camille Flammarion generally speculated about the same, that being alien life on other planets. The work of Bulwer-Lytton bore a strong resemblance to that of Defontenay except that it specifically covered the active discovery of a new sort of life on a distant planet (James & Mendlesohn, 2003; DePauw, 2015).
Before getting into the next major age of science fiction, there are two names that cannot be skipped over and those are Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Julese Verne lived a ltitle later and a lot longer than Mary Shelley as he lived from 1828 to 1905. After studying in Paris in the mid-1840's, he started writing in the form of stage comedies in 1850. He then churned out a number of books that are still revered to this very day. On the other hand, HG Wells was more focused on social criticism and review as he was a blatant anti-Marxist who wrote about that and other things. His more revered works include The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds. Anyone who has paid attention to movies over the…
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