In Shelley’s wake: tracing two centuries of impact

PhD Thesis


Bedford, Alison M.. 2018. In Shelley’s wake: tracing two centuries of impact. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland. https://doi.org/10.26192/5f62eb9d77b5c
Title

In Shelley’s wake: tracing two centuries of impact

TypePhD Thesis
Authors
AuthorBedford, Alison M.
SupervisorJohnson, Laurie
Gildersleeve, Jessica
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages208
Year2018
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.26192/5f62eb9d77b5c
Abstract

In Shelley’s Wake: Tracing Two Centuries of Impact builds upon the strong biographical scholarship on Mary Shelley to consider the conditions and circumstances that allowed her to write what Brian Aldiss labels 'the first real novel of science fiction' (30), Frankenstein. While this generic categorisation remains contentious, my work draws upon Michel Foucault’s concept of discourse and the language of archaeology and geology that he uses throughout An Archaeology of Knowledge and The Order of Things to build an understanding of culture as a fluid phenomenon and hence one in which we can trace the ripples of impact caused by the publication of Shelley’s novel. My close reading of Frankenstein explores the major themes of curiosity, education, family, and responsibility to reveal Shelley’s position, concluding that she offered fractured mirrorings of each in the three-part narrative of the novel. These ambiguous representations, where none are given clear primacy over the others, are the hallmark of the novel and ultimately establish the moral space for readers to make their own decisions about the potentials of new science.

Moving forward, I explore the utility of emerging research tools in tracing, measuring and quantifying the impact of Shelley’s works and the moral space she established in her ambiguous representations of science and its potential outcomes. Ultimately, I conclude with a return to Foucault, arguing that Shelley is, in fact, a founder of discourse, having 'produced something else: the possibilities and the rules for the formation of other texts' ('Author' 113). Having surveyed the impact of Shelley’s work, I argue that what is revealed is not only the very early elements of the science fiction genre but in Frankenstein Shelley also opened a new discursive space for science and morality to interact through fiction. It is this same discursive space that the genre of SF, with all its sub-genres and permutations, has come to occupy today, and so we can see Shelley as not only the founder of genre, but the founder of a new way for culture and society to respond to scientific advancement.

This work offers a new perspective on Shelley and on science fiction, as I argue that Shelley both established a new discursive space and laid the groundwork for the genre (SF) which most often occupies this space. There is an abundance of scholarship on Shelley, with a great deal of new material emerging as it is the bicentennial year of the first edition of Frankenstein, so it is a relevant and current topic of interest to a wide range of scholars. I offer something new to this discussion: in my close reading of the novel, my framing of Foucault’s concept of discourse, and to the significance ascribed to Shelley, not only as a founder of genre, but more importantly as opening out the space in which our culture can negotiate the moral landscape of new science.

KeywordsMary Shelley, Frankenstein, contextual biography, Michel Foucault, founder of discourse
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020470504. British and Irish literature
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Arts and Communication
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