bodies and identities


C.L. Moore, "No Woman Born" (1944)
Available in The Best of C.L. Moore, in the General Collection, Georgia Tech Library

"No Woman Born," a short story by C. L. Moore published during the Golden Age of science fiction, further advances the Frankenstein tradition by casting the created being as a posthuman with an already-established identity. It tells of a beautiful famous dancer Deirdre who perishes in a theater fire. Her brain is saved, and a scientist named Maltzer develops a metal body in which to place it. As a result, Deirdre is preserved, and her former manager, John Harris, is amazed by the final work. Dierdre is a featureless but beautiful golden robot in a shape that evokes but does not attempt to directly replicate that of a human female. Despite these overt differences, Deirdre communicates verbally and can move much like her former human self. She soon returns to the stage despite the protests of Maltzer. Maltzer's reservations stem from a nagging sense of uneasiness in Deirdre. He fears the public's ultimate rejection of Deirdre as a novelty. Her inaugural performance is one of majestic wonder, as she displays dancing abilities exceeding those of her former body. The public, surprised and newly aware of what they are seeing, erupts with approval. However, Maltzer approaches Deirdre with his doubts, and Deirdre retreats to solitude for several weeks. When she returns to Harris and Maltzer, Maltzer is extremely morose and convinced that she will suffer unbearably as a subhuman creature. He decides that his creation is a mistake, and he chooses to take his own life. With blinding speed and agility, Deirdre saves Maltzer, revealing the true source of her own unease. Rather than being subhuman, she has superhuman abilities. As she revelas to Maltzer and Harris, her ultimate concern is that with her new abilities she will become detached from humanity. Therefore she must remain in the public spotlight in order to stay connected to what she considers her kind.

The story's title itself alludes to the symbolic content of the story. To describe the beauty of Deirdre, Moore borrows an old poem by James Stephens: "There has been no woman born who was so beautiful; not one so beautiful of all the women born" (Moore 237). Maltzer reanimates Deirdre in a constructed metal body, which he feels a sense of inhumanity towards from the beginning: "It's not that she's-ugly-now…metal isn't ugly...maybe she's-grotesque" (Moore 240). Upon seeing the new Deirdre, Harris fights disbelief as he gazes on the beautiful metal frame, clothed in fine chain mail. While featureless in the face, she retained her voice so that others may recognize her. Harris accepts that what he sees truly is Deirdre: "'It's me, John darling. It really is, you know.' And it was" (Moore 242). More than anything, though, is the fluid motion with which she moves her new body that truly convinces Harris that this golden being is indeed Deirdre.

Maltzer's fear of Deirdre's rejection amplifies as time goes on. This is due to his intimate and bizarre relationship with Deirdre: "He had never known Deirdre except as a machine, and he could not see her objectively any more than Harris could. To Maltzer she was pure metal, a robot his own hands and brain had devised, mysteriously animated by the mind of Deirdre, to be sure, but to all outward seeming a thing of metal solely" (Moore 252). This results in an apprehension towards public opinion of Deirdre, as he feared that they would see his creation exactly as he saw her. He understands public ignorance, but is not aware of his own ignorance regarding the reality of Deirdre's situation.

Deirdre's first performance as a metal human comes as a surprise to her audience, which is how Deirdre wants to be reintroduced to the public: "I don't want the audience coming in with preconceived ideas…I don't want them to come ready to pity my handicaps, or full of morbid curiosity" (Moore 256). Her performance is stunning, characterized by "better than human" movements and humming that fills the theater with sound, captivating and bewildering the audience (Moore 263 - 264). At the end of her performance, she laughs in joy as she sings her trademark song, definitively revealing herself to the audience. At that point, "humanity had dropped over her like a tangible garment. No one who had ever heard that laughter before could mistake it here" (Moore 265). The audience responds with roaring approval. This does little to convince Maltzer that his fears are unfounded, and following the performance he speaks with Deirdre, who retreats to the countryside for reflection.

Upon returning from her farmland, Deirdre meets with Harris and Maltzer to address Maltzer's concerns. Maltzer attends this meeting with motives of his own, and he tries one last time to convince Deirdre that all is not well in her world:

You can't deceive me, Deirdre. I created you, my dear. I know. I've sensed that uneasiness in you growing and growing for a long while now…I've made a terrible mistake, Deirdre. I've made you vulnerable, and given you no weapons to fight your enemies with. And the human race is your enemy, my dear, whether you admit it now or later…They're going to hate you, after a while, because you are beautiful, and they're going to persecute you because you are different - and helpless. (Moore 274 - 275)

After pleading his case, Deirdre responds by asserting that she is not, as Maltzer believes, subhuman: "I'm not a Frankenstein monster made out of dead flesh. I'm myself-alive. You didn't create my life, you only preserved it. I'm not a robot, with compulsions built into me that I have to obey. I'm free-willed and independent, and, Malzer-I'm human" (Moore 278). She finishes her rebuttal by revealing the ease with which she simulates smoking a cigarette, a distinctly human action. Maltzer rejects this as a trick, and in a display of ultimate despair, tries to throw himself off a balcony. Deirdre immediately saves Maltzer from certain death with an inhuman speed. This action finally forces Deirdre to admit her own issues: "You're right. I am unhappy…Humanity and I are far apart, and drawing farther" (Moore 284). However, contrary to Maltzer's concept, she is now more than human. "I think I was an accident. A sort of mutation halfway between flesh and metal. Something accidental and…and unnatural, turning off on a wrong course of evolution that never reaches a dead end…I'm not vulnerable and helpless. I'm not sub-human…I suppose that I'm-superhuman" (Moore 286-7). Deirdre recognizes her uniqueness, and acknowledges that this is what causes her distress: "I'm afraid. It isn't unhappiness, Maltzer-its fear. I don't want to draw so far away from the human race…but I wish there could be others like me. I'm…I'm lonely, Maltzer." Malzer responds: "Then I am Frankenstein, after all" (Moore 287).

Moore saturates her story with senses of despair and tragedy much like Shelley. Since Deirdre is a created being, she cannot live in perfect harmony with the human race. Rather, she must struggle to maintain her relations to humanity. In contrast to Victor Frankenstein's creature, however, who sees achieving human recognition as his ultimate goal, Deirdre must struggle to not lose her humanity. In both cases, however, the scientists who create these new beings can only feel despair when they look upon their creations. Indeed Maltzer, much like Victor, rejects his life's work and believes it to be a mistake. Deirdre embraces her creator, however, and forces him to reevaluate his ignorance and see the true implications of his creation that must now live as an enhanced posthuman rather than a tragic subhuman.


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