Nineteenth-Century Cyborgs: Vitalism and Materialism in Frankenstein, The Coming Race, and The Island of Doctor Moreau
AuthorButler, Miranda Joelle
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractCyborg creatures are often associated with the technological advancements of the 1980s and 1990s. However, Donna J. Haraway argues that cyborg imagery exists as a way to blur the lines between traditional dualisms, which suggests that cyborg hybridity could be present in literature long before the twentieth century. For example, in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the complex identity of Victor’s cyborg creature demonstrates that "life" cannot be explained in purely vitalist or purely materialist terms. In what follows, I will explore the way that, sparked by the vitality debate, several Victorian novels after Frankenstein argue through their representations of cyborg entities that a purely dualistic model is insufficient to explain "life." Edward Bulwer-Lytton presents hybridity and the complexities of vitality in his novel The Coming Race, when he describes the utopian society of the Vril-ya. In The Island of Doctor Moreau, H.G. Wells introduces another image of cyborgs: the hybrid creatures called the Beast People. Lastly, although modern science and technology has developed far beyond the nineteenth century, the questions of "life" raised by nineteenth-century science, and the cyborg images which allowed authors to complicate these questions, continue to inspire modern literature such as Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age.
Degree ProgramHonors College