Date of Completion
Victorian, literature, science, scientists, novel, ethics, sight, epistemology
Thomas E. Recchio
Pamela A. Bedore
Field of Study
Doctor of Philosophy
This project surveys the scientist as a character in British novels from 1818 to 1909. Almost every major nineteenth-century novelist wrote at least one “scientist novel,” including Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, Mary Shelley, and H. G. Wells. I argue that this happened because the realist novel is an ideal experimental space for epistemologies: its protracted engagement with ways of thinking allows it to test both the accuracy and ethics of epistemologies. These novels depict science as a way of seeing with ethical repercussions in order to explore what happens when science turns its gaze upon human beings. In doing so, these novelists were both responding to and shaping a new vision of science in British culture: During this period, “science” became codified as a distinct epistemological practice, the amateur “man of science” was replaced by the professional “scientist,” and science turned its gaze upon the human realm in the form of new sciences such as sociology and psychology. If the new scientist’s way of seeing left him unable to perceive even his lover with accuracy or caused him to behave unethically toward his community, then how could science’s claims about human thought and human society be trusted? I trace how novelists engage with these questions by exploring the way the novel depicts science as a unique visual practice that manifests in different human realms—such as romantic relationships, projects of social reform, the domestic space, and war—while contextualizing these novels in the ways the Victorians themselves talked about the ethical implications of seeing like a scientist. In doing so, I intervene in the study of Victorian science and literature by suggesting that the Victorian novel was not only responding to the new disciplines and discoveries of science, but to the new way of seeing the world that the scientist embodied.
Mollmann, Steven C., "Visions of the Victorian Scientist" (2016). Doctoral Dissertations. 1078.
Available for download on Saturday, May 02, 2026