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Eighteenth-Century Fiction and the Reinvention of Wonder$
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Sarah Tindal Kareem

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199689101

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199689101.001.0001

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“A Little Voyage of Discovery?”: Fiction and the Pursuit of Knowledge

“A Little Voyage of Discovery?”: Fiction and the Pursuit of Knowledge

(p.186) 5 “A Little Voyage of Discovery?”: Fiction and the Pursuit of Knowledge
Eighteenth-Century Fiction and the Reinvention of Wonder

Sarah Tindal Kareem

Oxford University Press

The final chapter shows how Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Shelley’s Frankenstein critique admiration for great minds. This critique occurs within the context of the emergent disciplinary war between the arts and the sciences over who has exclusive rights to wonder. Northanger Abbey and Frankenstein refuse to equate science with disenchantment and literature with marvel. Instead, they expose arbiters of both science and taste—Victor Frankenstein and Henry Tilney—as promoters of a false realism that conceals its artifice. Embodying an alternative to this model, both novels reveal language’s capacity to manipulate perception. Manipulating narrative point of view defamiliarizes the act of reading in order to show that assuming a default skepticism, as Raspe prescribes, is insufficient. Skepticism is as open to error, Austen and Shelley suggest, as credulity. Critiquing admiration that becomes uncritical veneration for genius, Austen and Shelley re-ground wonder in the ordinary—in effect reinventing wonder yet again.

Keywords:   Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, willing suspension of disbelief, science, point of view

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