‘Vital Matters: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Romantic science’

Critical Survey (Berghahn Books) Vol. 2, No. 1 1990

Written and published soon after I gained my Ph.D in late 1989, I believe this essay was among the first (or even the first) to use the phrase ‘Romantic science’ in a scholarly publication. It  explores the relationship between Shelley’s Frankenstein and the new early 1800s experimental chemistry being pioneered in London by Humphry Davy. Following my commission to produce the first Penguin Classic edition of Frankenstein of 1984/5, I had embarked on a 5 year long in-depth study of William Godwin’s work for my Essex Ph.D . During this period, I’d discovered that the brilliant young chemist Humphry Davy had belonged to Godwin’s circle, and had had some influence on the reading of his teenage daughter Mary Shelley – then still Mary Godwin. This piece of writing marked a kind of breakthrough for me, as it soon led to the book-length writing and publication of the Penguin Critical Study, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), which has been quite influential in its way (see web page on that book ).

Read Online