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Doctors, Detectives and Devils: Science vs. the Supernatural in The Hound of the Baskervilles and Dracula Maximize

Doctors, Detectives and Devils: Science vs. the Supernatural in The Hound of the Baskervilles and Dracula

The American and British Novel in the 19th Century Doctors, Detectives and Devils: Science vs. the Supernatural in The Hound of the Baskervilles and Dracula

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Historians and literary scholars have long puzzled over the resurgence of interest in the supernatural in the Victorian period. This period has been called the ‘age of science’, a period of increasing belief that the cosmos was governed by immutable natural laws rather than capricious supernatural agencies or divine whim, and when supernatural beliefs were increasingly dismissed as superstition. The construction of empirically grounded laws was widely regarded as one of the higher goals of scientific endeavour and those monuments of ordering physical phenomena … were upheld by Victorian scientists as the ideal to which all scientific enterprises should aspire”.

So writes Richard Noakes in the introduction to his article Spiritualism, science and the supernatural in mid-Victorian Britain (23). However, I feel that while certainly the Victorian era was a period of great advancement and unprecedented achievements in many a field, one should not discount the continuing influence of its predecessor: the Romantic period. To consider the Victorian age as a direct offspring of the age of Enlightenment and its cerebral philosophies is to see but one half of the picture. Romanticism served to stir a great interest in nature and the influence of the external world upon the human soul, a subject which was frequently broached in mid-to-late 19th century literature, whether directly as a major player within the plot (Such as in Moby Dick and Three Men in A Boat) or perhaps more commonly as an indirect, yet obviously present influence (Such as in Wuthering Heights and Heart of Darkness).

This particular element of Romanticism gave birth to what I find to be one of its most interesting genres: Gothic literature. In the Norton Anthology’s introduction to topics of the Romantic Period, it is said that “[Gothic literature] had originated in novels of the mid-eighteenth century that, in radical opposition to the Enlightenment ideals of order, decorum, and rational control, had opened to literary exploration the realm of nightmarish terror, violence, aberrant psychological states, and sexual rapacity.” It further notes the creation, during that period, of “the ominous hero-villain”, who would go on to become a recurring character in 19th century literature as well as poetry, serving as the basis for many “demonic, driven, and imaginatively compelling protagonists as Byron's Manfred […] Frankenstein's Creature in Mary Shelley's novel, Heathcliff in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, and, in America, Captain Ahab in Melville's Moby-Dick.” (The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Romantic Age: Introduction)