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"Airy Children of Our Brain": Emotion, Science and the Legacy of Eighteenth-Century Philosophy in the Shelley Circle, 1812-1821

SHIH, TERENCE,H,W (2011) "Airy Children of Our Brain": Emotion, Science and the Legacy of Eighteenth-Century Philosophy in the Shelley Circle, 1812-1821. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis examines the physical effects of human emotion and the mind through selected texts written by the Shelley circle, including P. B. Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Lord Byron. Emotion is a significant variable that dominates human existence. For this reason, the concept of emotion continues to intrigue numerous scientists working today in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, biology, and even robotics. With the rise of neuroscientific or cognitive approaches, the materiality of the mind has also been increasingly discussed in literary studies. Critics, including Alan Richardson, Noel Jackson, and Richard Holmes, revisit the mind and English Romanticism drawing on various scientific perspectives. Other critics, such as Adela Pinch, Thomas Pfau, and Richard C. Sha, have also reflected on emotional studies and Romanticism. Finding affinities with this kind of approach, recently defined as ‘cognitive historicism’, my thesis explores the legacy of eighteenth-century mental philosophy and science in the Shelley circle, 1812-1821. I argue that the Shelley circle’s scientific understanding of the mind and emotion is influenced by the materialism, empiricism, and aesthetics prevalent in the eighteenth century, which come into their own in the Romantic period to prefigure our current scientific understanding of emotion.
Chapter One surveys the Shelley circle’s preoccupation with emotion and science and how this is manifest, to varying degrees, in a wide range of critical responses to Frankenstein and writings of other members of the group during this period. During the course of this critical survey I develop the concept of the ‘materiality of emotion’, which is used in subsequent chapters to re-examine the Shelley circle’s scientific philosophy and how it is represented in literary texts written by the group. Chapter Two argues that Shelley develops his views of the mind through his atheistic and materialist reasoning. This materialist thinking of the mind in Queen Mab exerts a seminal influence on how the Shelley circle thought about the workings of human emotion. Chapter Three focuses on Mary Shelley and contemporary eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scientific debates to suggest that the representation of the mechanism of the body in Frankenstein points to the intricate relations between the mechanisms of the mind and emotion and offers a means to heal the schism between French materialism and vitalism. Chapter Four investigates the depiction of emotional effects on the mind in Byron’s Manfred and Shelley’s Alastor. Both poets draw on scientific reasoning and imagination to come to terms with grief, the failure of love, and the loss of ideals. Chapter Five claims that Shelley’s Frankenstein meditates on the effects of physiological elements of the beautiful and the ugly, as well as emotional responses to the sublime science. My final chapter draws on cultural history and gender theory to interpret Byron’s Don Juan (Canto One) and Shelley’s Epipsychidion in an attempt to reaffirm the beautiful and the sublime in their materialist concept of love or sexuality.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Shelley Circle; eighteenth- and nineteenth century culture; science; philosophy; literature
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2011
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:06 Jun 2011 10:23

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