The Science of Life and Death in Frankenstein

Ruston, Sharon (2021) The Science of Life and Death in Frankenstein. Bodleian Library Press, Oxford. ISBN 9781851245574

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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? The Science of Life and Death in Frankenstein is the first book to bring together the many scientific and medical attempts to account for life and death in Mary Shelley’s time. In it, Sharon Ruston considers what Shelley’s contemporaries thought of air, blood, sunlight, electricity, and other elements believed to be the most essential for life. Mary Shelley’s (and her circle’s) knowledge of science and medicine is carefully examined and her novel is placed in the context of other Romantic-period writings on life and death. A number of key scientific and medical thinkers are considered in the book, including John Abernethy, James Curry, Humphry Davy, John Hunter, William Lawrence, Joseph Priestley, and some organizations, such as the Royal Humane Society. Ruston 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, reminding us of the reality of living and dying in the early nineteenth century.

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28 Oct 2021 15:05
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12 Sep 2023 03:52