“Dr. Materialismus,” Frederic Jesup Stimson, 1893

“Dr. Materialismus,” Frederic Jesup Stimson, 1893 — The narrator introduces C. S. J. J. “Rousseau” Tetherby as a young man he encountered at Newbridge, where they both studied law.  Tetherby has a knack for debate but is normally withdrawn, becoming impassioned only at odd moments, such as when overhearing a “derogatory” remark about “Goethe’s theory of colors.”

When Tetherby winds up dead, his papers are discovered.  Among them is the story of Tetherby’s failed romance with Althea Hardy, a young woman with which he had a connection based on both intellect and affection.  She becomes infatuated with a German professor, Dr. Materialismus, or Dr. Mismus.  The doctor and Tetherby engage in a contest of wills, particularly over the definition of “emotion”; is it an undefinable aspect of the soul, a phenomenon which precedes physiological response in the brain, or is emotion merely a byproduct of a more material phenomenon–can emotion, as Dr. Materialismus suggests, be created by a machine?  Is man a machine?  Can everything be reduced to numbers, as some suggest of colors and sounds, can even the increments between emotions be thought of as gradations between numbers–what about Love, or the love known as religion?

To prove the doctor wrong, Tetherby submits to the doctor’s machine, but he finds himself subjected to and overwhelmed by the entire spectrum of human emotion the machine is capable of producing.  The doctor leaves to rendezevous with Althea, leaving Tetherby in the machine.  For twelve hours, Tetherby endures; he clings to the belief that Love transcends the doctor’s artificially-created emotions, but when he escapes the machine he’s in the grip of the murder impulse.  He seeks the couple out and tries to attack the doctor, but both the doctor and Althea flee and disappear.

Comments:  Themes and figures include: capitalism, socialism, automata, Goethe, Dante, Rousseau, Shakespeare clubs, Hegel, Leibnitz, Democritus, the soul, the perception of light and sound, male/female intellectual kinship, the Nibelung-saga, Cain, the German scientist.  See H. Bruce Franklin’s extensive commentary in Future Perfect: American Science Fiction of the Nineteenth Century, which includes a comparison and contrast with Melville.

Author: Wikipedia:Frederic Jesup Stimson (1855–1943) was the United States Ambassador to Argentina 1915–1921. He was the first U.S. envoy to Argentina to hold the title Ambassador, the previous envoys having held the title Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary. He was a Harvard Law graduate and writer of several influential books on law, and also a novelist specialising in historical romances, sometimes writing under the pen name J.S. of Dale.”


About jennre

Lifelong sf fan, first-time blogger
This entry was posted in 1926 and earlier, automata/robots, capitalism/Marxism, emotions/intimacy/empathy, favorites, gender, love/family/children, mathematics, mechanization, natural/artificial, psych/mind/madness, religion/soul/spirituality, scientific ethics, senses/space, the body, the scientist. Bookmark the permalink.

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