B6 5/31-7/8 MW 6:00-9:40PM 04889 GREENIAUS
Victorian Tales of Science and the Supernatural
In an 1825 essay titled “Signs of the Times,” the British author Thomas Carlyle sarcastically praised a prominent French physician, observing, “with what scientific stoicism he walks through the land of wonders, unwondering… where he finds nothing real but the saltpetre [potassium nitrate], pasteboard and catgut.”
The essay warns that the nineteenth century is a “Mechanical Age” full of such people, who only value fact and practicality. As science and technology progress, the world loses its magic and mystery — perhaps even its morality. Is it worth it?
In this class we will read fiction of the “Mechanical Age” that features scientists quite unlike Carlyle’s French physician. If anything, Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Moreau wonder too much. Their scientific experiments don’t destroy magic; they are magic. And yet their fates confront us with the same question: Is it worth it? We will find this asked in our other texts: ghost stories, detective stories, and a few items too strange to classify. Are there things we are simply better off not knowing? If so, why might we be tempted to pursue the truth at any cost?