Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




Kim Wheatley

Committee Members

Brett Wilson

Suzanne Raitt

Jennifer Taylor


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.

Creative Commons License

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

On-Campus Access Only