nature

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NOTES

nature

In 1818 Victor had used the ambiguous term "view of nature." In her revision Mary Shelley makes clear that he is speaking not of a "natural view," but rather of the range of possibility offered in the universe. This is compatible with contemporary usage. Johnson's Dictionary (1755) gives eleven definitions of the word, none of which conforms to our idea of nature as merely an external, visual phenomenon:

  1. An imaginary being supposed to preside over the material and animal world
  2. The native state of properties of any thing, by which it is discriminated from others
  3. The constitution of an animated body
  4. Disposition of mind; temper
  5. The regular course of things
  6. The compass of natural existence
  7. Natural affection, or reverence; native sensations
  8. The state or operation of the material world
  9. Sort; species
  10. Sentiments or images adapted to nature, or conformable to truth and reality
  11. Physics; the science which teaches the qualities of things

Given this spectrum of meanings, we might suppose that the first application, from Victor Frankenstein's perspective, would be to the last connotation. He is, after all, a scientist speaking to another engaged in research and suggesting to him that the known boundaries of the discipline are inadequate to the realities he has uncovered. And yet the fact that these earlier definitions of nature touch so pointedly on what we might ordinarily think of as extraneous categories—moral or theological—should prepare us for such an elaboration in Victor's narrative as well. The second and third definitions, for instance, pertain as much to what Victor as creator imparted to his Creature's mind as to his body, and the fourth might raise the question of his essential morality. The seventh might revert to Victor's own psychological shortcomings, or, depending on one's perspective, those of his Creature. That "power" is associated in Victor's mind with his idea of nature allows us, as well, to cross the one spectrum of meanings with another distinctive to that term. Again, Victor might think of it in a strictly scientific sense, as a producer of essential energy, an aspect of the electricity that is understood as a dynamic force force by both him and Walton. And yet, as we will eventually learn, his existence has in its recent history turned almost wholly on an axis of personal power politics as he has struggled with his Creature for dominance.