At the close of the eighteenth century, Erasmus Darwin declared that he would 'enlist the imagination under the banner of science,' beginning, Michael Page argues, a literary narrative on questions of evolution, ecology, and technological progress that would extend from the Romantic through the Victorian periods. Examining the interchange between emerging scientific ideas-specifically evolution and ecology-new technologies, and literature in nineteenth-century Britain, Page shows how British writers from Darwin to H.G. Wells confronted the burgeoning expansion of scientific knowledge that was radically redefining human understanding and experience of the natural world, of human species, and of the self. The wide range of authors covered in Page's ambitious study permits him to explore an impressive array of topics that include the role of the Romantic era in the molding of scientific and cultural perspectives; the engagement of William Wordsworth and Percy Shelley with questions raised by contemporary science; Mary Shelley's conflicted views on the unfolding prospects of modernity; and how Victorian writers like Charles Kingsley, Samuel Butler, and W.H. Hudson responded to the implications of evolutionary theory. Page concludes with the scientific romances of H.G. Wells, to demonstrate how evolutionary fantasies reached the pinnacle of synthesis between evolutionary science and the imagination at the close of the century.
Table of Contents
Contents: Introduction: 'the banner of science': science and the 19th-century British literary imagination; 'Beautiful and sublime images of the operations of nature': Erasmus Darwin; 'Mirrors of the gigantic shadows of futurity': Wordsworth and Shelley; 'A new species': Mary Shelley's science fiction novels; 'A tangled bank': Darwinian science fictions; 'Dim outlines on a desolate beach': H.G. Wells; Conclusion: 'where do we go from here?'; Works cited; Index.
Michael R. Page is a Lecturer in the English Department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His research focuses on literature's encounter with science and technology in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.
A Yankee Book Peddler Literary Essentials Title for 2013 'Michael R. Page's new book contributes to important literary discussions. By pointing to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Darwin's Origin of Species as foundational myths of modern culture, his valuable argument links 19th-century science to imaginative literature and reclaims science fiction as a significant genre.' Ashton Nichols, Walter E. Beach '56 Distinguished Chair in Sustainability Studies at Dickinson College and author of Beyond Romantic Ecocriticism: Toward Urbanatural Roosting (2011) 'It is refreshing to see a broad sweep across periods in an era of narrow specialization, but also across critical frameworks.' English Literature in Transition 1880-1920 '... as a working hypothesis it illuminates characteristic trends of nineteenth-century writing in thought-provoking ways.' Modern Language Review '[This book] is an ambitious project ... [it] is part of an important movement in literary criticism marked by an increased popular and academic interest in and awareness of the ecological and evolutionary consequences of what has come to be called 'the Anthropocene'.' Notes and Queries