Sep. 7, 2009, at 3:22pm
Arts and Letters Daily links today an interesting Newsweek article about Mary Shelly’s novel, Frankenstein. I read it years ago; Jules read it this summer. (Dr. Healy’s quotation of passages from Dracula in his talk on damnation had put him in the mood for catching up on those classics.) What strikes me in particular is the number of personalist thoughts and themes in the article as well as the book. Take just this passage:
The Romantics did not reject science, as Richard Holmes demonstrates in his remarkable new book, The Age of Wonder. (Holmes is also the author of a brilliant biography of Percy Shelley). They were ambivalent. Romantic artists and scientists shared a commitment to the quest for truth, and they were both motivated by wonder. It’s no accident that Frankenstein shares certain features with Percy Shelley. Frankenstein is a kind of artist, as well as a composite of the era’s well-known scientists. But as Holmes shows in a chapter on Frankenstein, Mary also captured the fear surrounding scientific exploration: if man can manipulate nature like a machine, what becomes of the soul? Chemistry and biology must be only half the story—half the human, one might say. Frankenstein is an argument between reason and emotion, nature and civilization, the divided self. Frankenstein’s radical suggestion is that it doesn’t take God to heal the rift. It takes the loyalty and love of another person.
Makes me wish I could take a year to study the seeds of personalism in 19th century English ethos. I’d like to look into questions like the relationship between science and persons, the problem of solitude, and the role others play in mediating us (or not) to ourselves.