Groff Conklin’s Criticisms of Shelley’s Frankenstein

While reading the introduction to Science Fiction Thinking Machines (1954), I was shocked by Groff Conklin’s criticisms of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein:

Even since the days of that ineffably dull and moralistic epic Frankenstein and probably before, the idea of an intelligent machine, or automaton has fascinated writers of imagination. . . . There were many other stories of automata, but for the most part they were literary failures much as Frankenstein is, for our modern taste. (x)

Granted, Conklin wrote this during the height of his anthologizing and while science fiction magazines were still a publishing phenomenon. The kinds of stories written at that time were certainly different than Shelley’s Frankenstein, but was it so different that an editor like Conklin went out of his way to criticize a work that all of the works that he may like definitely owed a measure of gratitude? Was “our modern taste” that adverse to Shelley’s groundbreaking work from 1818?

It could be that my modern taste is mutually exclusive with that of Conklin’s. I’ve read Frankenstein several times–beginning at my time at Georgia Tech–and I always enjoy picking it up to read again. I revel in Frankenstein’s hubris, and I feel the creature’s lament on his tragic condition. It is a wonderful novel that should not be disregarded as a “ineffably dull” or a “literary failure.” If you haven’t read it before, I cannot give a stronger recommendation for you to do so.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I direct the B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing Program and coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.