Herr Victor Frankenstein:
"I paused, examining and analysing all the minutiae of causation, as exemplified in the change from life to death, and death to life, until from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me--a light so brilliant and wondrous, yet so simple, that while I became dizzy with the immensity of the prospect which it illustrated, I was surprised that among so many men of genius who had directed their inquiries towards the same science, that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret."- Victor Frankenstein
I do not know for certain if Victor Frankenstein is truly the first Mad Scientist of literature. I have little doubt that if some lesser Mad Scientist predates him, some smart-arsed English Lit Postgrad has dragged him into the light. But I could care less, frankly. Frankenstein is the first Great Mad Scientist, so I for one have no qualms about putting him first on the list.
Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein at an interesting time, so far as scientific thinking goes. The distinction between the 'Arts' and 'Sciences' which we take for granted was less clear in 1819. In fact, the term 'scientist' was yet to be coined. While anatomical research on humans had been going on since the Renaissance, organised knowledge of chemistry was a much more recent innovation. Before Frankenstein's arrival at the University of Ingolstadt, he was largely self taught, and his text-books tend more towards alchemy than chemistry. At university suppliments this knowledge with 18th century chemical and physiological training.
Now, here the modern reader meets an interesting point: which tradition is Frankenstein following when he makes his creature, the mystical or the scientific? Is he a Mad Scientist or an Mad Wizard? There are two ways to look at that. Firstly, Mary Shelley was writing at a time when, as I say, the clear distinction between "Natural Philosophy"- that is, Science- and more abstract philosophies was much less distinct. She makes no mention of electricity. Though written in 1819, the events of the novel are set in the late eighteenth century- a while before Galvani and his follewers began to make their claims about the curative powers of electricity. In fact, Frankenstein is highly unwilling to reveal anything about the specifics of his methods. The lightning-powered electrical apparatus were introduced to the Frankenstein story later, at first during stage-plays, and later in various movies.Second, while Alchemy usually tells us little more than "don't play with mercury if you don't want to write drivel", there is the occasional speck of grain amongst the chaff. For example, Paracelsus, whose works Frankenstein studied, was the first writer to suggest that diseases were caused by germs invading the body, rather than by disharmony amongst the bodily humours. Might we then assume that Frankenstein saw some similarly useful nugget which (informed by his scientific knowledge) proved useful? It is interesting to note that the alchemist Paracelcus also claimed to have created a living creature or homonculus through alchemical means. This fact must have been known to the writers of the film"Bride of Frankenstein", in which Dr. Pretorius also makes several miniature homonculi, and the Bride herself is formed by a combination of artificially grown organs and organs from dead bodies.
Either way, Frankenstein created his monster.
But this is by the by. Just who is this Victor Frankenstein, and what did he do? Herr Victor Frankenstein is a Swiss, who's family have long been people of significance in Geneva. He is not a Baron, as he is often called in movies; Switzerland has been a republic since the middle ages and has no titled aristocracy, though he does come from an influential family. Nor is he a doctor incidentally, since he neglected to complete his university degree.Mad Scientists are often accused of playing God, and that is exactly what young Victor did. The Monster, having read Paradise Lost frequently compares himself to Lucifer, as a creature constantly at war with it's creator; albeit with better cause. In Judeo-Christian mythology, it is the Creation who in his arrogance deserts the Creator; Frankenstein in his cowardice deserts his creation. The Monster, alone in a world attempts t