Romanticism’s interest in the forms of scientific and literary experimentation is well documented, from the Lyrical Ballads poems “to be considered as experiments” (the first such application of the term to artistic work), to Humphry Davy’s experiments with nitrous oxide, to Victor Frankenstein’s grisly experiment creating new life. Though this last example points most obviously to an “experimental life,” all three experiments raise questions of Romantic vitality examined in Experimental Life.

A vitalist turn has been under way in long eighteenth-century scholarship for more than a decade now. These inquiries have flourished particularly in the two fields in which Mitchell’s work most plainly engages: literary criticism and the history of science and medicine. Peter Hanns Reill’s (2005) Vitalizing Nature in the Enlightenment and Robert J. Richards’s (2002) Romantic Conception of Life are among recent titles in the...

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