“Frankenstein’s Monster was vegetarian.”

“Frankenstein’s Monster was vegetarian… Frankenstein was indebted to the vegetarian climate of its day…In its associations of feminism, Romantic radicalism, and vegetarianism, Mary Shelley’s book bears the vegetarian word.

For a work that has received and unusual amount of critical attention over the past twenty years, in which almost every aspect of the novel has been closely scrutinized, it is remarkable that the Creature’s vegetarianism has remained outside the sphere of commentary…

The Creature includes animals within its moral codes, but is thwarted and deeply frustrated when seeking to be included within the moral codes of humanity. It learns that regardless of its own inclusive moral standards, the human circle is drawn in such a way that both it and the other animals are excluded from it.


Literary critics identify in Frankenstein a distillation of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s life and learning, an interweaving of biography and bibliography. Through her father, William Goodwin, Mary Shelley met many notable vegetarians, such as John Frank Newton, author of The Return to Nature; or, A Defense of the Vegetable Regimen, Joseph Ritson, his publisher Sir Richard Phillips, and, of course, Percy Shelley, who had authored A Vindication of Natural Diet and the visionary and vegetarian Queen Mab.

Romantic radicalism provided the context for the vegetarianism to which Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was exposed while growing up.

They argued that once meat eating had redefined humanity’s moral relationship with animals, the floodgates of immorality were opened, and what resulted was the immoral, degenerate world which they and their contemporaries lived.

The ideas to which Mary Shelley and the Romantic vegetarians gravitate tantalizingly overlap: each rewrote the myths of the Fall (especially Genesis 3) and the myth of Prometheus. Each ponders the nature of evil and visions of utopia. In the Creature’s narrative, Mary Shelley allies herself with Romantic vegetarians who uncoded all tales of the primeval fall with the interpretation that they were implicitly about the introduction of meat eating. She precisely situates the vegetarian position concerning these two myths in the Creatures’s narrative. The two preeminent myths that frame her Frankenstein, the myth of Prometheus and the story of Adam and Eve, had both been assimilated into the Romantic vegetarian position and interpreted from a vegetarian viewpoint by Joseph Ritson, John Frank Newton, and Percy Shelley.

Both Mary Shelley and the Romantic vegetarians weave another myth of the Fall into their writings: the myth of Prometheus who stole fire, was chained to Mount Caucasus, and faced the daily agony of having his liver devoured by a vulture, only to have it grow back each night. Besides the standard Romantic view of Prometheus as a rebel against tyranny, Mary Shelley knew of an additional interpretation of the myth. For Romantic vegetarians, the story of Prometheus’s discovery of fire is the story of the inception of meat eating. They accepted Pliny’s claim in Natural History that ‘Prometheus first taught the use of animal food…’ Without cooking, meat would not be palatable. According to them, cooking also masks the horrors of a corpse and makes meat eating psychologically and aesthetically acceptable. Percy Shelley provides the Romantic vegetarian interpretation of this myth: ‘Prometheus (who represents the human race) effected some great change in the condition of his nature, and applied fire to culinary purposes; thus inventing an expedient for screening from his disgust the horrors of the shambles. From this moment his vitals were devoured from the vulture of disease.’

That Victor goes to slaughterhouses not only incorporates into the novel the anathema with which vegetarians beheld it, but suggestively implies the Creature is herbivorous. Since it is only herbivorous animals who are consumed by humans, the remnants gathered by Victor from the slaughterhouse would have been parts from herbivorous bodies.”

-Carol Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat

TBR: The Chemical Wedding

‘Published in 1616, The Chemical Wedding predates Johannes Kepler’s novel Somnium, which was written in 1608 but not published until 1634 and “which usually gets the nod” as the first science fiction story. But as Crowley writes in his introduction to The Chemical Wedding, Somnium “is more of an illustrated example or thought-experiment than a real story,” and while “the astronomy underlying it is new … it doesn’t carry the thrill of wild but just-around-the-corner possibilities that SF ought to”.

He says that the science of The Chemical Wedding “is late Renaissance alchemy, which had the same fascination for readers of the time as the scientific possibilities of classic SF did in its last-century heyday”. Crowley admits that “alchemy is not science if by science we mean only what is now included in that accretion of tested knowledge that still holds up as true even if primitive or inadequate”. Nonetheless, he argues, “alchemy is science … in the sense that it had a general picture of the material world and a rational scheme for formulating hypotheses and proceeding with investigations of it”.

“So that’s why The Chemical Wedding is the first science fiction novel: unlike other contenders, it’s fiction; it’s about the possibilities of a science; and it’s a novel, a marvellous adventure rather than simply a parable or an allegory or a skit or a thought experiment,” writes the author, adding that “like SF, it probably appealed to a self-selected readership of geeks and enthusiasts”.

Experts in the field were delighted at the news of the book’s reissue – but are not entirely convinced by Crowley’s claim. “If the modern novel as such is 17th century and is a ‘thing’, then it cannot qualify as the first SF novel. If, on the other hand, any lengthy tale is a novel, surely Utopia [published in 1516] is the first SF novel,” said professor Farah Mendlesohn, a science fiction academic. “But that doesn’t mean it’s not fascinating.”’



[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

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