Reason and logic were celebrated as the ultimate ideals of
English professor Monique Morgan’s current research project, “Narrative and Epistemology in Victorian Science Fiction,” explores this logic-centered view of Victorian science through the era’s science fiction and language.
Morgan has a B.A. in Physics and Astronomy and Astrophysics from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in English from Stanford University. Her research looks at novels including “Frankenstein,” “The Island of Doctor Moreau” and others to explore how the writers employ language and the scientific method. She examines how the era’s conception of the scientific method can be exposed by examining their use of language techniques, including inductive reasoning, analogical thinking, analogies, similes
“I’m interested in the way these novels use different narrative techniques to reflect some concerns in the 19th century about the scientific method, and how it works, or problems when it doesn’t work so well,” she said.
The project, though it includes a pronounced presence of science and the scientific method, is largely focused on literary language, Morgan said.
“I’m trained as a literary critic and looking at literary form and narrative technique, but I am also bringing in some philosophy and a fair bit of science from the time,” she said.
Morgan’s work on this project began as a paragraph on a job application. She was finishing graduate school and applying for jobs that required a description of her next book project.
“I had no idea what my next book project was going to be,” Morgan said. “I thought, ‘Maybe I can come up with some idea about
Over the next decade, Morgan’s project was stalled by various demands. Only now is the second draft of the book is near completion. Like Frankenstein’s Creature, her creation from 10 years of work has finally come to life.
“I thought it likely would change,” she said. “Eventually, it takes on a life of its own. The thing that you imagine actually becomes reality.”
Finding her own perspectives on heavily criticized, century-old texts has been challenging, Morgan said, as well as figuring out what texts to use to make her points effectively.
“Do I bring in Charles Darwin and bring in evolutionary theory, or electromagnetism, or a
Morgan said her interest in the Victorian era is in part due to the distance between then and now.
“It’s distant enough and different enough that it all seems a little bit odd,” she said.
Despite this difference, Morgan said even in the Victorian era, society was realizing its relationship to climate change in the face of industrialization. Many of the anxieties expressed in the era’s literature are present and much more acute now, such as in H.G. Wells’s “The Time Machine,” a novel that explores social and environmental change over enormous spans of time.
Overall, Morgan explained her argument is that the early writers of science fiction are not only defamiliarizing the world around us through the use of rhetoric, rational thinking
“They’re trying to get readers to not take the scientific method for granted,” she said.