Tuesday, August 14, 2018

An excellent new book on doubt in 19th century Victorian England

by Salman Hameed

This year is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I am again reading it right now and I am again reminded of how good it is. There is also plenty of science and religion in there, especially as we are dealing with the creation of (intelligent) life by a human. Most of the movies have not really done justice to the true philosophical themes addresses in the book. Danny Boyle's (of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionare fame) stage production of Frankenstein is outstanding. But the point is that there are many themes in the book that pertain to science and religion.

There is a new book out Genres of Doubt: Science Fiction, Fantasy and the Crisis of Victorian Faith that directly addresses science and religion of the era. Apart from Frankenstein, it focuses on The Island of Dr. Moroe, Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Alice in Wonderland, etc.  It even even has a place for Edwin Abbott's Flatland: A romance of many dimensions - a book that we love to talk about in astronomy when talking of dimensions of the universe. As an aside, here is a clip from Carl Sagan's Cosmos on Flatland:

I really digress. My point is that the Genres of Doubt looks fascinating. You can listen to the interview with the author, Elizabeth Sanders on the New Books Network (it is a long interview but really interesting). Here is the description:
The Victorians left an indelible stamp on culture that continues to be in evidence today, not least of which is their refinement of the realist fiction medium known as the novel and their innovations, which led to the birth of fantasy and science fiction – two of today’s most popular genres. This period also gave rise to a Victorian “crisis of faith,” as the traditional Christian beliefs that had underpinned British society for centuries faced new challenges from scientific discoveries, the writings of Charles Darwin, and exposure to other cultures. In her book Genres of Doubt: Science Fiction, Fantasy and the Crisis of Victorian Faith (McFarland & Co. Publishers, 2017), Elizabeth M. Sanders argues that these two shifts—one literary and one cultural—were deeply intertwined. She writes that the novel, a literary form that was developed as a vehicle for realism, when infused with unreal elements, offers a space to ponder questions about the supernatural, the difference between belief and knowledge, and humanity’s place in the world. She revisits familiar, representative works from the period, organizing her analysis around how they exemplify particular responses to or strategies for dealing with the problems raised by the new questioning of the supernatural. 
Elizabeth M. Sanders holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Iowa. She works in corporate and foundation relations at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and speaks at conferences about career transitions for Ph.D. graduates. She was recently a speaker at the Beyond the Professoriate online conference and her book was recently nominated for the Mythopoeic Society’s Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies.
Listen to the interview here.


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