Donovan’s Brain is one of many stories about a scientist who has gone mad through obsession with the pursuit of knowledge that will give him power over nature. The so-called “mad scientist” has become a stock figure in commercial fiction and motion pictures. Early prototypes occur in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s drama Faust (1808), Mary Shelley’s romantic novel Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter” (1844), and H. G. Wells’s novel The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896). The ancient Greeks, however, offered much earlier examples in their mythology of what they called hubris, excessive human pride that was invariably punished by the gods.
Curt Siodmak had a better scientific background than most authors of “mad scientist” novels, and as a result Donovan’s Brain is plausible. The fictional device of writing his novel in the form of a scientist’s journal is effective. Siodmak’s knowledge of science enabled him to sprinkle his story with medical terminology that gives it verisimilitude. The narrator, Dr. Cory, appears to be talking to himself in his journal, making the reader feel like an eavesdropper.
Although Siodmak published many novels, both in Germany and in the United States, he is best remembered for Donovan’s Brain. The novel has been adapted to the motion picture screen several times. The...
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