“Nevertheless, there is a clear line of continuity from Frankenstein’s “workshop of filthy creation” (Shelley 1994, 36) and Glasgow University’s anatomical laboratory to Ure’s utopian vision of the automatic factory as both “a vast automaton, composed of various mechanical and intellectual organs” and a site where the powers of labour, science, and capital operate together “in harmony” to “form a body […] like those of organic life”. (316)
Smith’s scholarly article progressively shows that Frankenstein “explores a profound tension that was beginning to emerge in industrial society between biology and technology, physiology and mechanics, in which the distinction between the governing concepts of organism and machine was becoming increasingly blurred” (303) Smith explains Frankenstein is not so much an analysis but rather a presentation of “key forces of modernity in a state of profound and unresolved dissonance” (304)
In this article the monster’s body is the cultural body. Smith progresses through disparate cultural movements (early Industrial Revolution and new sciences of life) that played a “crucial role in Mary Shelley’s conception of the novel,” and which have merged into a monstrous cultural legacy such that “this interpenetration of bodies and technologies has become increasingly more intimate” where machine learning “not only knows our behavior but also shapes our behavior at scale” (316)
To me, the selected quote holds the most striking analogy between the novel and the historical context presented in Smith’s article. I still sympathize with the creature and do not count that being as filthy creation. To me, this “workshop of filthy creation” is about depraved science and corrupt power. It is about ethics and exploitation.
Smith ends the article in pessimism—no refuge for the “modern automated subject.” That may be true for now. But what about those key forces of modernity that have a clear line of continuity in Frankenstein. Don’t forces change? Don’t people, and therefore cultures, evolve?
Russell Smith (2019) Frankenstein in the automatic factory, Nineteenth Century Contexts, 41:3, 303-319,