Can Hysteria create Mad Science? A further discussion of the depiction of Fictional Women of Science

A meeting with sinister repercussions for the world

Cogpunk Steamscribe and Doctor Steel.

Hysteria (noun): an uncontrollable outburst of emotion or fear, often characterized by irrationality, laughter, weeping, etcetera. Often considered restricted to women. The word ‘hysteria’ comes from the same origins as the word ‘hysterectomy’ – both derive  from Greek word ‘hystera’ meaning “womb”.  Back in the Victorian era, it made perfect sense that women suffered from hysteria, because they were considered emotional creatures and too much thinking would send them mad. However, consider the word ‘mad’. It can mean insane, but it can also mean really, really angry…

Happy Quinn from Scorpion -a mechanical engineer and inventor with an IQ of 184 and anger management issues.

It depends on how you define mad on how you define a mad scientist. Happy from Scorpion fills my definition nicely. She is mad at the world, and yet she hasn’t let that stop her from inventing or repairing machinery and electronics. I would love to see anyone call her a hysteric to her face.

I’ve mentioned Temperance Brennan from Bones in previous articles. She can get pretty snippy when the science doesn’t make sense or doesn’t achieve her exacting standard. As well, in her earlier seasons, she would have probably fulfilled the criteria for being a slightly crazy scientist as well. However, I am yet to see her blow anything up … that is left to Doctor Jack Hodgins, who gets to have the real fun.


I’ll stop being a tease. One of the actual fictional mad scientists is Claudia Donovan from Warehouse 13. She invents wild and wacky gadgets and does manage to blow things up once in a while. As well, she often updates Warehouse technology, adapting it or improving it. And when we first meet her character, she is trying to get her revenge on Arty by destroying the Warehouse.

And – of course – the epitome of mad scientist is Helena Wells from Warehouse 13; beautiful, genius level intelligence, and (when we first meet her) completely balmy due to the death of her daughter.  She will crack the world to get her revenge. She even builds her own time machine, unlike our world’s H G Wells, who only wrote about it; though it can only send your consciousness back in time. Some of her other inventions include the Imperceptor Vest, which allows faster-than-humanly-detectable movement, and Cavorite a metal with anti-gravity effects, and the grappler gun (which Mika envies).

Helena Wells of Warehouse 13: Polymath and Inventor

You can’t get any more Steampunk that a gender-swapped bisexual H G Wells who is also a genius with mad inventing skills (see what I did there?). Her characterization is dependant on her being a grieving mother, but her intelligence and gadgets are equally important. In fact, her femininity adds an extra dimension to her characterization, rather than overwhelming it. Alas … by the end of the show Helena was also ‘domesticated’, with the writers having her claiming to be happier playing a role as wife and mother rather than as a mad scientist.

Thank goodness, Claudia is a zany inventor right up until the very last episode. No white picket fences for Miss Donovan! She goes from being extraordinary to being more extraordinary!

Well, the winds up my character dissection of recent fictional women of science. Sadly, most of characterisations for these women have focussed more on their gender than their intellects and abilities. It seems that we still have a way to go before women scientists are seen as scientists first and women second.



Filed under Characterization, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Genre, Stereotypes, Uncategorized, Women in Science

2 responses to “Can Hysteria create Mad Science? A further discussion of the depiction of Fictional Women of Science

  1. Pingback: Can Hysteria create Mad Science? A further discussion of the depiction of Fictional Women of Science | Cogpunk Steamscribe

  2. So true about Claudia! I think part of the ‘mad’ scientist moniker is that they do things for the sake of doing them, consequences be damned (such as Victor Frankenstein). Claudia often tries to make improvements to the Warehouse without thinking it all the way through.

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