Date Thesis Awarded

5-2016

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)

Department

English

Advisor

Kim Wheatley

Committee Member

Brett Wilson

Committee Member

Suzanne Raitt

Committee Member

Jennifer Taylor

Abstract

I contend that a specific set Romantic ideals in Mary Shelley’s 1826 novel The Last Man – optimism, the power of the imagination, self-determination, and the ability to use nature and art to access a transcendent state of being – fail to enable humankind to exercise control over themselves or the inescapable systems of the political and natural worlds, although individual characters’ powers do allow some reclamation of contextual agency. The novel is a thorough critique of unfounded Romantic optimism; however, the novel’s structure exerts a mitigating force on this condemnation. It proposes a very real possibility of rebirth and rebuilding for which Romantic ideals provide essential energy, which further suggests that these ideals do have value for human progress. Nor is this conflicted state unique to Mary Shelley’s novel: darkness and doubt appear in other Romantic texts as well, meaning that The Last Man is less a departure from than a continuation of them.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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