One of the earliest reviews of Frankenstein was written by Sir Walter Scott for Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in 1818. Overall, Scott wrote that the “author’s original genius” impressed him (p. 613). However, he was unsure how to describe the “peculiar” genre, or, as he called it, “species” of the novel.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “science-fiction” would not appear until 1851, and many scholars argue that it would not be popularized until the late 1920s. Understandably, then, Scott struggled to describe the “philosophical and refined use of the supernatural” in Frankenstein (p. 613). He explains that in the novel, “the laws of nature are represented as altered … in order to shew the probable effect [of] the supposed miracles” and “open up new channels of thought” (p. 614). Sound familiar? It’s as if Scott knew that almost 200 years later, Sherryl Vint’s 2014 book, Science Fiction: A Guide for the Perplexed, would concede that science fiction is difficult to define. However, like Scott, Vint concludes that SF can be viewed as “a cultural mode that struggles with the implications of discoveries in science and technology for human social lives and philosophical conceptions.”
- Frankenstein, or, The modern Prometheus / Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley ; edited by D.L. Macdonald & Kathleen Scherf. Ontario: Broadview Press, 1999, pp. 300-306. [Eaton copy here.]
- Scott, Walter. “Remarks on Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus; a novel” in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, no. XII, vol. ii (March 1818). pp. 613-620. Original from the University of California Library, and available digitally via HathiTrust.org.
- “Science Fiction” definition A1 in The Oxford English Dictionary Online. From the Oxford English Dictionary 3rd edition, March 2014. Web. 13 April 2017.
- Vint, Sherryl. Science Fiction: A Guide for the Perplexed. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. Kindle Edition, loc. 110. [Or, a physical copy is available at the Eaton, here.]