Science and the Sublime in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein College

For many, it is hard to think of the world of science and the art of literature working in tandem. In the 1800s, the discipline of natural philosophy rapidly changed due to the Enlightenment, moving toward formal sciences. Romanticism served as a backlash to the extreme rationalization displayed in the Enlightenment, which focused on universal betterment, imagination, and the beauty found in the natural world. Mary Shelley wrote her famous novel, Frankenstein, which blends Enlightenment characteristics of scientific discovery with the Romantic aesthetic of the sublime. Throughout the novel, Shelley employs the sublime, effectively addressing the anxieties and uncertainty surrounding scientific progress in nineteenth-century Europe.

The Enlightenment, a time of scientific discovery deeply rooted in reason and rationality, boasted many experiments and theories regarding life. One experiment in particular is often discussed when analyzing Shelley’s work: Luigi Galvani’s experiment in which he “claimed he could reanimate dead frogs by injecting them with what he called ‘animal electricity,’ which he managed to do when his dead specimens were affixed with metal pins connected to plates rubbed together to create an electrical...

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