The Science of Life and Death in Frankenstein

Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein emerged from a climate of fear. As scientific knowledge increased and new resuscitation techniques were widely reported, the public worried that the boundary between life and death was not as definite as had been thought. There was a real concern that doctors could not tell with any precision when very ill people were alive or dead. Members of the public worried that they might be buried alive or their corpses stolen from their graves for use in medical experiments. The Science of Life and Death in Frankenstein, shows how Shelley capitalised on the uncertainty caused by new scientific and medical ideas of life and death. Her novel continues to produce disquiet and unease even two hundred years after its first publication because of continued anxiety about scientific explorations.

Professor Sharon Ruston is Chair in Romanticism at Lancaster University. She has written a number of books, including Creating Romanticism (2013), Romanticism: An Introduction (2010), and Shelley and Vitality (2005). She has co-edited the Collected Letters of Sir Humphry Davy for Oxford University Press (to be published in 2020). She presents an annual, free, online course on Davy, which will run again from 28th October 2019 and which she urges everyone to sign up for ( She has written a number of publicly available online articles for the British Library and The Lancet and contributed to podcasts and radio shows.