A New Palingenesis

Chris Murray, Keith Williams, Norrie Millar (Artist), Monty Nero, Amy O'Brien (Artist), Damon Herd (Contributing member)

Research output: Book/ReportBook

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Abstract

Robert Duncan Milne (1844-99), from Cupar, Fife, was a pioneering author of science fiction stories, most of which appeared in San Francisco’s Argonaut magazine in the 1880s and ’90s. SF historian Sam Moskowitz credits Milne with being the first full-time SF writer, and his contribution to the genre is arguably greater than anyone else including Stevenson and Conan Doyle, yet it has all but disappeared into oblivion. Milne was fascinated by science. He drew on the work of Scottish physicists and inventors such as James Clark Maxwell and Alexander Graham Bell into the possibilities of electromagnetic forces and new communications media to overcome distances in space and time. Milne wrote about visual time-travelling long before H.G. Wells. He foresaw virtual ‘tele-presencing’, remote surveillance, mobile phones and worldwide satellite communications – not to mention climate change, scientific terrorism and drone warfare, cryogenics and molecular reengineering. Milne also wrote on alien life forms, artificial immortality, identity theft and personality exchange, lost worlds and the rediscovery of extinct species.

‘A New Palingenesis’, originally published in The Argonaut on July 7th 1883, and adapted in this comic, is a secular version of the resurrection myth. Mary Shelley was the first scientiser of the occult to rework the supernatural idea of reanimating the dead through the mysterious powers of electricity in Frankenstein (1818). In Milne’s story, in which Doctor S- dissolves his terminally ill wife’s body in order to bring her back to life in restored health, is a striking, further modernisation of Frankenstein, to reflect late-nineteenth century interest in electromagnetic science and spiritualism. In particular, it is a retelling of Shelley’s narrative strand about Frankenstein’s aborted attempt to shape a female mate for his creature, but also his misogynistic ambition to bypass the sexual principle in reproducing life altogether. By doing so, Milne interfused Shelley’s updating of the Promethean myth with others. ‘A New Palingenesis’ is also a version of Pygmalion and his male-ordered, wish-fulfilling desire to animate his idealised female sculpture, Galatea from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, perhaps giving a positive twist to Orpheus’s attempt to bring his corpse-bride Eurydice back from the underworld as well?

With its basis in spiritualist ideas about the soul as a kind of electrical intelligence, detachable from the body but a material entity nonetheless, Doctor S- treats his wife as an ‘intelligent battery’. He is thus able to preserve her personality after death and renew her body simultaneously because that captured electrical intelligence also carries a DNA-like code for rebuilding the individual organism itself from its chemical constituents. The descriptions of the experiment and the body’s gradual re-materialisation are among Milne’s most visually impressive, anticipating the X-raylike anatomisation and reversal of Griffin’s disappearance process in Wells’s The Invisible Man (1897). In the context of the 1880s, it must have been a compelling scientisation of the paranormal, combining highly technical descriptions of the Doctor’s system of electrically linked glass coffins with ghostly imagery. It is both dramatic and highly visual, even cinematic in its descriptions, and is here brought to life in the form of a comic.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationDundee
PublisherUniVerse
Number of pages24
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022

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