News on the French Frankenstein

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“The Frankenstein of the French Revolution: Nogaret’s Automaton Tale of 1790,” is now available in European Romantic Review, 20, 3 (2009): 381-411.
Long before Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was published in 1818, an author penned a story that resembles it on more than one account: François-Félix Nogaret, Le Miroir des événemens actuels, ou la belle au plus offrant (The Looking Glass of Actuality, or Beauty to the Highest Bidder, 1790). Nogaret’s story about an inventor named Frankenstein who builds an artificial man is an astounding precursor, especially since the Revolution and its attempt to make a “new man” have long focused interpretations of Shelley’s work. Both texts ask whether technological innovation will help or hinder human progress, and provide answers reflecting their differing historical and ideological contexts. What seemed possible in 1790 was later viewed with skepticism, including by Nogaret himself in subsequent editions of Le Miroir (1795, 1800). The tension between enthusiasm and disdain for the project of improving upon nature or remaking mankind, prefigured in the changes between the two editions of Nogaret’s novella, resonates profoundly in Frankenstein. By focusing on the history of eighteenth-century automatons, and a political interpretation of Nogaret’s two works, this article shines new light on issues of selfhood and community, and the boundaries between human and nonhuman, as they were perceived in the years 1790-1818.

– Julia Douthwaite, with Daniel Richter (M.A. University of Notre Dame, 2008)

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