kathleen ann goonan


Much like Shelley, Goonan insists that the cycle of mad creation can only be broken by those members of society who have both a formal education in the public sphere and humane moral instruction in its private counterpart. Verity's education, when compared with Abe's education, illustrates the necessity of both scientific and moral instruction. Abe, like Victor Frankenstein, devoured books in his childhood even when advised by his parents to pursue other endeavors. Both scientists, then, receive a scientific education unbalanced by moral instruction at home. By way of contrast, Verity (like Frankenstein's creature), receives both formal and moral instruction from her adoptive family.

The differences in the two characters' educations and personalities become apparent when they are forced from the bosom of their respective families. After his mother's death, Abe loses moral control over himself and devotes himself almost exclusively to his semi-Oedipal obsession with reanimating India in the city he builds for her. This has disastrous results for both mother and son-and, of course, the inhabitants of Cincinnati as a whole. Verity, however, is able to rely on her strong moral compass to bear her along on the mission that awaits her after her childhood with the Shakers. Instead of being caught up in her own desires, Verity sacrifices herself to ransom those who need her. She "[cares] what happens to … people" and in doing so is able to change what "no City-raised person" could: the sick, repetitive patterns of the City itself (414, 420).

Of course, Verity does not save the City by herself. Rather, she does so in tandem with Rose (by way of the program named Dennis), the only other character in Goonan's novel who seems to have received both public and private education. Much like her literary predecessor Elizabeth, Rose has acquired a well-rounded education that permits her to maintain her connections to the domestic sphere and the moral order with which it is typically associated. This rare quality is what leads Rose to plant the seeds of change in Abe's City and thus ensure its salvation. Her intervention, in the form of Dennis, facilitates Verity's breaking of the City's bubble and allows "the change into Rose's sane City" (452).Without her concern, the City of Cincinnati would descend into the inevitable chaos of a closed system.

It is precisely this infiltration that allows Rose to mitigate the near-catastrophe resulting from Abe's nonsexual reproduction of life. When Abe harnesses the power to create, he cancels out the need for sexual reproduction. He passes on the ability of self-perpetuation to the Hive India, allowing her to enslave the citizens of the City and use them for her own ends. In truth, the entire Hive works "as if they were mothers needing no fathers," to preserve this cycle of self-reproduction (413). Once again, then, Goonan both invokes and reworks Shelley. Nonsexual scientific reproduction leads to the degradation of humanity, but in Goonan's world, at least, that degradation is ultimately reversed by a heroine who transcends the ideals of her maker and who embraces both romantic and sexual communion with others.




  ethics of creation


bodies and identity


domesticity, morality,
and motherhood



  interview with
kathleen ann goonan