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American Women of Letters and the Nineteenth-Century Sciences
Styles of Affiliation
Baym, Nina
Rutgers University Press, 2001
Winner of the 2000 Hubbell Award from the American Literature Section of the Modern Language Association of America

Choice Outstanding Academic Title​

During the nineteenth century, the content and institutional organization of the sciences evolved dramatically, altering the public's understanding of knowledge. As science grew in importance, many women of letters tried to incorporate it into a female worldview. Nina Baym explores the responses to science displayed in a range of writings by American women. Conceding that they could not become scientists, women insisted, however, that they were capable of understanding science and participating in its discourse. They used their access to publishing to advocate the study and transmission of scientific information to the general public.

Bayms book includes biographies and a full exploration of these women's works. Among those considered are:
• Almira Phelps, author of Familiar Lectures on Botany (it sold 350,000 copies)
• Sarah Hale, who filled Godey's Lady's Book with science articles
• Catharine Esther Beecher, who based her domestic advice on scientific information
• Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, the actual ghostwriter of her husband's popular science essays
• Emily Dickinson, whose poetry is replete with scientific images.

Baym also investigates science in women's novels, writing by and about women doctors, and the scientific claims advanced by women's spiritualist movements. This book truly breaks new ground, outlining a field of inquiry that few have noted exists.
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Clashing Convictions
Science and Religion in American Fiction
Albert H. Tricomi
The Ohio State University Press, 2016
Clashing Convictions: Science and Religion in American Fiction is the first study to identify a body of twentieth-century American fiction that represents the increasing tensions experienced by people of Christian faith in response to Darwinism, the higher biblical criticism, and modern medicine. Delineating how these works dramatize clashes between scientific and conservative Protestant understandings of the world, Albert H. Tricomi examines a canon of ten novels and one iconic play that present a cultural history of inner turmoil as well as social conflict.  The three parts of the study chart this increasing inner turmoil, a rising secularist ideology, and finally a fundamentalist revival among alienated biblical literalists.
 
With chapters on James Lane Allen’s The Reign of Law, Harold Frederic’s The Damnation of Theron Ware, William Dean Howells’s The Leatherwood God, Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith and Elmer Gantry, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s Inherit the Wind, and James Scott Bell’s The Darwin Conspiracy, Tricomi offers new readings emphasizing how this canon represents science and religion as in deep, if not irreconcilable, conflict. Tricomi’s sweeping study, with its emphasis on the twentieth century, thus reveals from several directions the processes of secularism even as it identifies the emergence of what some have come to describe as the current “postsecular” moment in America.
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Darwin and the Novelists
Patterns of Science in Victorian Fiction
George Levine
University of Chicago Press, 1991
Levine shows how Darwin's ideas affected nineteenth-century novelists—from Dickens and Trollope to Conrad. "Levine stands in our day as the premier critic and commentator on Victorian prose."—Frank M. Turner, Nineteenth-Century Literature. "Magnificently written, with a care and delicacy worthy of its subject."—Nina Auerbach, University of Pennsylvania
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Darwin and the Novelists
Patterns of Science in Victorian Fiction
George Levine
Harvard University Press, 1988

Darwin’s theory thrust human life into time and nature and subjected it to naturalistic rather than spiritual or moral analysis. Insisting on gradual and regular–lawful–change, Darwinian thought nevertheless requires acknowledgment of chance and randomness for a full explanation of biological phenomena. George Levine shows how these conceptions affected nineteenth–century novelists—from Dickens and Trollope to Conrad—and draws illuminating contrasts with the pre–Darwinian novel and the perspective of natural theology.

Levine demonstrates how even writers ostensibly uninterested in science absorbed and influenced its vision. A central chapter treats the almost aggressively unscientific Trollope as the most Darwinian of the novelists, who worked out a gradualist realism that is representative of the mainstream of Victorian fiction and strikingly consonant with key Darwinian ideas. Levine’s boldly conceived analysis of such authors as Scott and Dickens demonstrates the pervasiveness and power of this revolution in thought and sheds new light on Victorian realism.

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Dying to Know
Scientific Epistemology and Narrative in Victorian England
George Levine
University of Chicago Press, 2002
"Dying to Know is the work of a distinguished scholar, at the peak of his powers, who is intimately familiar with his materials, and whose knowledge of Victorian fiction and scientific thought is remarkable. This elegant and evocative look at the move toward objectivity first pioneered by Descartes sheds new light on some old and still perplexing problems in modern science." Bernard Lightman, York University, Canada

In Dying to Know, eminent critic George Levine makes a landmark contribution to the history and theory of scientific knowledge. This long-awaited book explores the paradoxes of our modern ideal of objectivity, in particular its emphasis on the impersonality and disinterestedness of truth. How, asks Levine, did this idea of selfless knowledge come to be established and moralized in the nineteenth century?

Levine shows that for nineteenth-century scientists, novelists, poets, and philosophers, access to the truth depended on conditions of such profound self-abnegation that pursuit of it might be taken as tantamount to the pursuit of death. The Victorians, he argues, were dying to know in the sense that they could imagine achieving pure knowledge only in a condition where the body ceases to make its claims: to achieve enlightenment, virtue, and salvation, one must die.

Dying to Know is ultimately a study of this moral ideal of epistemology. But it is also something much more: a spirited defense of the difficult pursuit of objectivity, the ethical significance of sacrifice, and the importance of finding a shareable form of knowledge.
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The Emerson Museum
Practical Romanticism and the Pursuit of the Whole
Lee R. Brown
Harvard University Press, 1997

In 1832, Ralph Waldo Emerson had come to a critical pass. He had lost his wife and was on the brink of leaving his career as a minister. In this reduced state he traveled to New Hampshire, where he made his famous decision to pursue wholeness--in his life and in his writing. This book reveals how Emerson went about achieving this purpose--and how he conceived a uniquely American literary practice.

Central to this project were the aims and methods of natural science, which Emerson discovered in spectacular form at the Museum of Natural History (Jardin des Plantes) in Paris exactly a year after his momentous decision. Lee Rust Brown describes Emerson's use of these scientific techniques to integrate a disparate, constantly enlarging field of subject matter--ultimately, to reconceive himself as an institution of private research and public presentation not unlike the museum itself, methodically gathering specimens from the exotic frontiers of experience and setting them out, in their manifold affinities, on common ground.

The Emerson Museum shows how this undertaking transformed the legacy of European romanticism into a writing project answerable to American urgencies. The natural science of the time was itself informed by romantic demands for wholeness of prospect, and its methods offered Emerson a way to confront an American reality in which any manifestation of unity--literary, political, philosophical, psychological--had to embrace an expanding and fragmenting field of objective elements. In the experimental format of Emerson's essays, Brown identifies the evolution of this new approach and the emergence of wholeness as a national literary project.

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Emerson's Nonlinear Nature
Christopher J. Windolph
University of Missouri Press, 2007

  In this provocative study, Christopher Windolph analyzes Emersonian naturalism from the standpoint of nonlinearity, offering new ways of reading and thinking about Emerson’s stance toward naturalism and the influence of science on his thought. Drawing on ideas in perspective theory, architecture, and nonlinear dynamics to argue that Emerson’s natural philosophy follows from his analysis of the development of organic forms, Windolph breaks new ground in Emerson studies by exploring how considerations of shape and the act of seeing underpin all of Emerson’s theories about nature.

            Bringing to his study a focused attention to the history of Western science and philosophy, Windolph reexamines Emerson’s understanding of how the act of seeing occurs and of the eye’s ability to see through appearances to organizing principles, showing how Emerson’s naturalism extends beyond the narrow confines of traditional linear science. Through extensive readings of Emerson’s journals, essays, and lectures, Windolph shows that Emerson was an empirical idealist who integrated a scientific approach to nature with an exploration of nonlinear principles, revealing him to be more prescient in his writings about certain recent developments in scientific thought than has been realized.

            This work makes a major contribution to the ongoing study of Emerson and science, expanding Emerson’s role as a major American philosopher while rebutting those who see him primarily as a rhetorician or poetic propagandist. Emerson’s Nonlinear Nature opens new ways of thinking about Emerson’s work in its nineteenth-century contexts, reassesses his reception in twentieth-century criticism, and makes a strong case for his continuing relevance in the century ahead.

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Fiction Refracts Science
Modernist Writers from Proust to Borges
Allen Thiher
University of Missouri Press, 2005
In Fiction Refracts Science, Allen Thiher demonstrates that major modernists, in their concern with the sciences, were strongly influenced by them. He argues that there are direct relations between science and the formal shape of fiction developed by some of the most important modernists. Especially relevant for his arguments are modern cosmology and quantum mechanics, as well as examples from mathematics, biology, and medicine.
            Thiher begins his study by examining the question about the two cultures—scientific and humanistic—that is often invoked in discussions of their relationship. He outlines the essential context for understanding how science was perceived by modernist novelists. This background included Pascalian and Newtonian cosmology, Darwinism, and the questions of epistemology ushered in by relativity theory and quantum mechanics. He then devotes a chapter each to Musil, Proust, Kafka, and Joyce in which he focuses on epistemology and on ideas about law in science and literature.
            Thiher goes on to describe the subsequent development of modernist fiction. He proposes that, after Joyce, thought experiments dominated the relations between science and later modernist fiction, as exemplified by Woolf, Faulkner, and Borges. In conclusion Thiher addresses the ongoing development of these experiments in postmodern fiction and discusses the fortunes of positivism in postmodern fiction.
            Written in a clear and accessible style, Fiction Refracts Science will be of interest to specialists in literary modernism, science studies, and the history of science, as well as to scientists themselves.
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Fiction Rivals Science
The French Novel from Balzac to Proust
Allen Thiher
University of Missouri Press, 2001

     In Fiction Rivals Science, Allen Thiher describes the epistemic rivalry that the major nineteenth-century French novelists felt in dealing with science. After brief considerations of Stendhal, Thiher focuses on the four most important "realist" novelists in France: Balzac, Flaubert, Zola, and, going into the twentieth century, Proust. According to Thiher, each of these novelists considered himself to be in competition with science to make the novel an instrument for knowledge.

The first chapter sets forth the understanding of science that dominated the early nineteenth century in order to make it plausible that literary minds, throughout the nineteenth century, thought that they could not only rival science, but even make positive contributions to knowledge. The Newtonian paradigm that had dominated the Enlightenment was slowly being challenged by new developments both in physics and in nonphysical sciences such as biology. Especially in biology the development of a scientific discourse using narrative temporality favored the idea that novelists could also use fiction to construct discourses that advanced knowledge.

Balzac wanted to construct a natural history of society and correct the chemical theory of his time. Flaubert drew upon medicine and physiology for the rhetoric of his realist fiction. Zola used unsuccessful medical paradigms for his doctrine of heredity, and models drawn from thermodynamics to describe the relation of the individual to societal forces. Finally, Proust drew upon thinkers such as Poincar‚ to elaborate an epistemology that put an end to the rivalry novelists might feel with scientists. Proust located certain knowledge within the realm of human subjectivity while granting the power of laws to rule over the contingent realm of physical reality, in which, after Poincar‚, neither mathematics nor Newton was any longer a source of absolute certainty. Proust's novel is thus the last great realist work of the nineteenth century and the first modernist work of consciousness taking itself as the object of knowledge.

By demonstrating that the great French realist novelists dealt with many of the same problems as did the scientists of the nineteenth century, Fiction Rivals Science attempts to show how culture unites literary and scientific inquiry into knowledge. Providing a new interpretation of the development of literary realism, this important new work will be welcomed not only by literary scholars, but by historians of science and culture as well.

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Joyce, Chaos, and Complexity
Thomas Jackson Rice
University of Illinois Press, 1997
Thomas Rice compellingly argues that James Joyce's work resists postmodernist approaches of ambiguity: Joyce never abandoned his conviction that reality exists, regardless of the human ability to represent it.
   
Placing Joyce in his cultural context, Rice first traces the influence of Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries on Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. He then demonstrates that, when later innovations in science transformed entire worldviews, Joyce recognized conventional literary modes of representation as offering only arbitrary constructions of this reality. Joyce responded in Ulysses by experimenting with perspective, embedding design, and affirming the existence of reality. Rice contends that Ulysses presages the multiple tensions of chaos theory; likewise, chaos theory can serve as a model for understanding Ulysses. In Finnegans Wake Joyce consummates his vision and anticipates the theories of complexity science through a dynamic approximation of reality.
 
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New Science, New World
Denise Albanese
Duke University Press, 1996
In New Science, New World Denise Albanese examines the discursive interconnections between two practices that emerged in the seventeenth century—modern science and colonialism. Drawing on the discourse analysis of Foucault, the ideology-critique of Marxist cultural studies, and de Certeau’s assertion that the modern world produces itself through alterity, she argues that the beginnings of colonialism are intertwined in complex fashion with the ways in which the literary became the exotic “other” and undervalued opposite of the scientific.
Albanese reads the inaugurators of the scientific revolution against the canonical authors of early modern literature, discussing Galileo’s Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems and Bacon’s New Atlantis as well as Milton’s Paradise Lost and Shakespeare’s The Tempest. She examines how the newness or “novelty” of investigating nature is expressed through representations of the New World, including the native, the feminine, the body, and the heavens. “New” is therefore shown to be a double sign, referring both to the excitement associated with a knowledge oriented away from past practices, and to the oppression and domination typical of the colonialist enterprise. Exploring the connections between the New World and the New Science, and the simultaneously emerging patterns of thought and forms of writing characteristic of modernity, Albanese insists that science is at its inception a form of power-knowledge, and that the modern and postmodern division of “Two Cultures,” the literary and the scientific, has its antecedents in the early modern world.
New Science, New World makes an important contribution to feminist, new historicist, and cultural materialist debates about the extent to which the culture of seventeenth-century England is proto-modern. It will offer scholars and students from a wide range of fields a new critical model for historical practice.
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Science Fusion in Contemporary Mexican Literature
Brian T. Chandler
Bucknell University Press, 2024
Science Fusion draws on new materialist theory to analyze the relationship between science and literature in contemporary works of fiction, poetry, and theater from Mexico. In this deft new study, Brian Chandler examines how a range of contemporary Mexican writers “fuse” science and literature in their work to rethink what it means to be human in an age of climate change, mass extinctions, interpersonal violence, femicide, and social injustice. The authors under consideration here—including Alberto Blanco, Jorge Volpi, Ignacio Padilla, Sabina Berman, Maricela Guerrero, and Elisa Díaz Castelo—challenge traditional divisions that separate human from nonhuman, subject from object, culture from nature. Using science and literature to engage topics in biopolitics, historiography, metaphysics, ethics, and ecological crisis in the age of the Anthropocene, works of science fusion offer fresh perspectives to address present-day sociocultural and environmental issues.
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Seeing New Worlds
Henry David Thoreau and Nineteenth-Century Natural Science
Laura Dassow Walls
University of Wisconsin Press, 1995

Thoreau was a poet, a naturalist, a major American writer. Was he also a scientist? He was, Laura Dassow Walls suggests. Her book, the first to consider Thoreau as a serious and committed scientist, will change the way we understand his accomplishment and the place of science in American culture.
    Walls reveals that the scientific texts of Thoreau’s day deeply influenced his best work, from Walden to the Journal to the late natural history essays. Here we see how, just when literature and science were splitting into the “two cultures” we know now, Thoreau attempted to heal the growing rift. Walls shows how his commitment to Alexander von Humboldt’s scientific approach resulted in not only his “marriage” of poetry and science but also his distinctively patterned nature studies. In the first critical study of his “The Dispersion of Seeds” since its publication in 1993, she exposes evidence that Thoreau was using Darwinian modes of reasoning years before the appearance of Origin of Species.
    This book offers a powerful argument against the critical tradition that opposes a dry, mechanistic science to a warm, “organic” Romanticism. Instead, Thoreau’s experience reveals the complex interaction between Romanticism and the dynamic, law-seeking science of its day. Drawing on recent work in the theory and philosophy of science as well as literary history and theory, Seeing New Worlds bridges today’s “two cultures” in hopes of stimulating a fuller consideration of representations of nature.
   

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Think to New Worlds
The Cultural History of Charles Fort and His Followers
Joshua Blu Buhs
University of Chicago Press, 2024
How a writer who investigated scientific anomalies inspired a factious movement and made a lasting impact on American culture.
 
Flying saucers. Bigfoot. Frogs raining from the sky. Such phenomena fascinated Charles Fort, the maverick writer who scanned newspapers, journals, and magazines for reports of bizarre occurrences: dogs that talked, vampires, strange visions in the sky, and paranormal activity. His books of anomalies advanced a philosophy that saw science as a small part of a larger system in which truth and falsehood continually transformed into one another. His work found a ragged following of skeptics who questioned not only science but the press, medicine, and politics. Though their worldviews varied, they shared compelling questions about genius, reality, and authority. At the center of this community was adman, writer, and enfant terrible Tiffany Thayer, who founded the Fortean Society and ran it for almost three decades, collecting and reporting on every manner of oddity and conspiracy.
 
In Think to New Worlds, Joshua Blu Buhs argues that the Fortean effect on modern culture is deeper than you think. Fort’s descendants provided tools to expand the imagination, explore the social order, and demonstrate how power is exercised. Science fiction writers put these ideas to work as they sought to uncover the hidden structures undergirding reality. Avant-garde modernists—including the authors William Gaddis, Henry Miller, and Ezra Pound, as well as Surrealist visual artists—were inspired by Fort’s writing about metaphysical and historical forces. And in the years following World War II, flying saucer enthusiasts convinced of alien life raised questions about who controlled the universe.
 
Buhs’s meticulous and entertaining book takes a respectful look at a cast of oddballs and eccentrics, plucking them from history’s margins and spotlighting their mark on American modernism. Think to New Worlds is a timely consideration of a group united not only by conspiracies and mistrust of science but by their place in an ever-expanding universe rich with unexplained occurrences and visionary possibilities.
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Uncommon Contexts
Encounters between Science and Literature, 1800-1914
Ben Marsden
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013
Britain in the long nineteenth century developed an increasing interest in science of all kinds. Whilst poets and novelists took inspiration from technical and scientific innovations, those directly engaged in these new disciplines relied on literary techniques to communicate their discoveries to a wider audience. The essays in this collection uncover this symbiotic relationship between literature and science, at the same time bridging the disciplinary gulf between the history of science and literary studies. Specific case studies include the engineering language used by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the role of physiology in the development of the sensation novel and how mass communication made people lonely.
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You Know My Method
Science of the Detective
J.K. Van Dover
University of Wisconsin Press, 1994
You Know My Method surveys the century following Edgar Allan Poe’s invention of the fictional detective in 1841. The same century saw the development of the idea of the scientist as a person who defined himself by his use of a disciplined method of inquiry. By 1940, the detective had established himself as the most popular figure in literature, and science had become the custodian of truth in the modern world. These two developments were not unrelated.
    The four principal writers covered are Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, R. Austin Freeman, and Arthur B. Reeve. Another dozen more writers are treated somewhat more briefly: Gaboriau, Pinkerton, Green, Morrison, Futrelle, and Leroux, among others.
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