From Alexander Pope to "Splice": a Short History of the Female Mad Scientist

The mad scientist is an icon of modern popular culture, but critics have traced its origin back centuries. Yet there seem to be few female mad scientists. Which is odd, because the first significant fictional mad scientist was a woman.

Brian Aldiss, in Billion Year Spree (1973), puts the mad scientist's origin in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818). Darko Suvin, in The Metamorphosis of Science Fiction (1979), nominates the Laputans (of Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726)) as "the first ‘mad scientists' in SF." Brian Stableford, in his essay "Scientists" (1973), goes farther back, stating that the mad scientist "inherited the mantle and the public image of the medieval alchemists, astrologers, and sorcerers." Robert Plank, in The Emotional Significance of Imaginary Beings (1968), claims Shakespeare's Prospero for the original mad scientist. And Peter Goodrich, in his "The Lineage of Mad Scientists" (1986), goes farther still, naming historical mad scientists, including the Persian scientist Alhazen (965-1040) and the English philosopher Roger Bacon (1214-1294), before tracing the origin of the mad scientist back to Merlin and to Prometheus, the Titan of Greek myth.

But the first mad scientist is undoubtedly Mathésis. She is the foremother of a long, but often neglected, tradition of female mad scientists in literature. Here we explore the history of lunatic ladies of in the laboratory.

Read the full article at io9.