From Galvanism to genetic engineering - a cautionary moral tale.,
It is initially easy to miss the contemporary relevance of this Regency gothic horror story but the beauty of Shelley's classic is that it is so much more than this.
Frankenstein explores the metaphysical notion of what it is to be human, morality, hubris and guilt. In doing so Shelley draws upon the literary greats: Milton, Shakespeare, Coleridge Taylor and Greek mythology, thus firmly establishing her work a place in the pantheon of English literature.
Whilst the science in the book is firmly rooted in the time in which it was written- alluding to the work of Galvani -the ideas it explores remain apposite today. The advent of artificial cells by the likes of Venter give rise to the real prospect of synthetic life in the very near future with the attendant moral issues relating to when do synthetic cells become sentient and thus attain a state of consciousness? And if so does this make them human? And what would be our responsibilities to such life forms?
This very dilemma has also dominated the thinking of experts in artificial intelligence since the invention of the transistor- the likes of Turing grappling with the notion can a machine be sentient and the equal of a person?
It is these very questions that lie at the heart of Shelley's masterpiece, making it as relevant to 21st century readers as it was to those in the 19th Century. In particular Frankenstein serves as a warning to modern scientists and to society as a whole of the dangers of scientific excess and hubris.