Between magic and reason: science in 19th century popular fiction

Roach, Katherine (2011) Between magic and reason: science in 19th century popular fiction. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Abstract

The scientist in fiction is much maligned. The mad, bad scientist has framed much of the debate about literary representations of science and with good reason since he is a towering icon of popular culture. Yet, I will propose that an equally preeminent figure provides an alternative model of science in fiction. This is the detective.

Links between developing scientific disciplines and the emerging genre of detective fiction have been well described to date. Yet the history of the detective as scientific icon has not been told, particularly not as it engages with the history of the mad scientist. These two paragons of modem culture developed from a groundswell of gothic narrative and imagery that emerged in the late 18th century and continued to entertain and challenge audiences throughout the 19th century, as they still do to this day.

My aim is to recover some of the complexity of past public images of science, and the understandings that such icons relate to, as they develop and meander through a variety of 19th century fictions. In a series of time slices I relate these figures, their iconography and narratives, to contemporary debates about science and follow through the elements that each generation retains, remoulds and claims for their own time. Ultimately, I hope to show that an panalysis of the mad scientist alongside other fictional scientific figures provides a far more nuanced picture of potential meanings, than the negative and fearful response that he is often assumed to represent. This is significant because both these icons are current in popular culture today and as such are part and parcel of the present pool of cultural resources that provides tools for thinking about science and society in the 21st century.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Nerlich, B.
Subjects: P Language and literature > PR English literature
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Sociology and Social Policy
Item ID: 13687
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 18 Oct 2013 08:23
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2016 17:29
URI: http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/13687

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