“In the winter of my second year at college there came to town a certain Dr. Materialismus—a German professor, scientist, socialist—ostensibly seeking employment as a German instructor at the college; practising hyponotism, magnetism, mesmerism, and mysticism; giving lectures on Hegel, believing in Hartmann, and in the indestructibility of matter and the destructibility of the soul; and his soul was a damned one, and he cared not for the loss of it.”
* * * * *
“He seemed to be fond of my company; of playing chess with me, or discussing metaphysics. Sometimes Althea was present at these arguments, in which I always took the idealistic side. But the little college has only armed me with Bain and Locke and Mill; and it may be imagined what a poor defence I could make with these against the German doctor, with his volumes of metaphysical realism and his knowledge of what Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer, and other defenders of us from the flesh could say on my side.”
SOURCE: Stimson, Frederic Jesup “Dr. Materialismus,” Scribner’s, Nov. 1890. Reprinted with prefatory note by the editor in Future Perfect: American Science Fiction of the Nineteenth CenturyAn Anthology, edited by H. Bruce Franklin, revised and expanded ed. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995), pp. 154-172.
Stimson was a diehard philistine reactionary, opposed to materialism, socialism, and women’s rights. This story has been anthologized under the category automata, as Dr. Materialismus virtually reduces the human organism to a manipulable machine. Stimson’s animosity is connected to other factors as well. There is so much prissy repressed sexuality in this stupid story, Stimson is compelled to etherealize his own obviously overwhelming desire.
The narrator presents the sad first-person account of Tetherby, the stand-in for Stimsons world view. Tetherbys love interest Althea is scared, and Tetherby is scared to kiss her on the lips.
Dr. Materialismus invites the prissy Tetherby to dinner, and then takes him into his lab and ties him up and manipulates his emotional responses with some diabolical invention. The entire gamut of emotions is involuntarily induced in Tetherby, the last one being horny for Althea, a reaction he finds as horrifying as the others.
Tetherby defies the Dr. to produce the emotion of love, and of God. The Dr. can produce almost any emotion by mechanistic means, the virtuous as well as the base. He can produce love, but the machine is unable to rev up enough power to produce communion with God. Tetherby struggles against the manipulated emotional roller coaster, but loses consciousness. When he wakes up, he finds a goodbye note from Althea, and the Dr. has also disappeared. Ouch!
Tetherby pursues the pair, they are absconding on skates, and he tries to cut them off, and fails. He can’t get through the ice. When he wakes, it is spring. He never saw Althea again. He heard rumors, thought the pair had married, but years later, she ended up alone. So was there penetration? Alas, we will never know. — RD
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