Science of Life and Death in 'Frankenstein', The

SKU: BODS-100443

“A beautifully cool and elegant survey of the contemporary science and medicine which young Mary Shelley wove so ingeniously into the dark gothic texture of her 1818 masterpiece. With quiet authority and wit, Sharon Ruston calmly assesses the wilder theories, the furious debates, the utopian hopes and the eye-watering experiments, which secretly shaped Frankenstein. Paradoxically, Ruston’s scholarship gives the Creature a whole new life beyond fiction.”Richard Holmes

What is life? This was a question of particular concern for Mary Shelley and her contemporaries. But how did she, and her fellow Romantic writers, incorporate this debate into their work, and how much were they influenced by contemporary science, medicine and personal loss?

This book is the first to compile the many attempts in science and medicine to account for life and death in Mary Shelley’s time. It considers what her contemporaries thought of air, blood, sunlight, electricity and other elements believed to be most essential for living. Mary Shelley’s (and her circle’s) knowledge of science and medicine is carefully examined, alongside the work of key scientific and medical thinkers, including John Abernethy, James Curry, Humphry Davy, John Hunter, William Lawrence and Joseph Priestley. Frankenstein demonstrates what Mary Shelley knew of the advice given by medical practitioners for the recovery of persons drowned, hanged or strangled and explores the contemporary scientific basis behind Victor Frankenstein’s idea that life and death were merely ‘ideal bounds’ he could transgress in the making of the Creature. 

Interweaving images of the manuscript, portraits, medical instruments and contemporary diagrams into her narrative, Sharon Ruston shows how this extraordinary tale is steeped in historical scientific and medical thought exploring the fascinating boundary between life and death.

Sharon Ruston is Chair in Romanticism in the English Literature and Creative Writing Department at Lancaster University.
  • Hardback
  • 240 pages, 234 x 156 mm
  • 16 halftones, 32pp colour plate section
  • ISBN: 9781851245574
  • Publication November 2021

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