The influences of William Wordsworth’s writing and evolutionary theory—the nineteenth century’s two defining visions of nature—conflicted in the Victorian period. For Victorians, Wordsworthian nature was a caring source of inspiration and moral guidance, signaling humanity's divine origins and potential. Darwin’s nature, by contrast, appeared as an indifferent and amoral reminder of an evolutionary past that demanded participation in a brutal struggle for existence. Victorian authors like Matthew Arnold, George Eliot, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Thomas Hardy grappled with these competing representations in their work. They turned to Wordsworth as an alternative or antidote to evolution, criticized and altered his poetry in response to Darwinism, and synthesized elements of each to propose their own modified theories. Darwin’s account of a material, evolutionary nature both threatened the Wordsworthian belief in nature’s transcendent value and made spiritual elevation seem more urgently necessary. Victorian authors used Wordsworth and Darwin to explore what form of transcendence, if any, could survive an evolutionary age, and reevaluated the purpose of literature in the process.
The Nineteenth Century Series aims to develop and promote new approaches and fresh directions in scholarship and criticism on nineteenth-century literature and culture. The series encourages work which erodes the traditional boundary between Romantic and Victorian studies and welcomes interdisciplinary approaches to the literary, religious, scientific and visual cultures of the period. While British literature and culture are the core subject matter of monographs and collections in the series, the editors encourage proposals which explore the wider, international contexts of nineteenth-century literature – transatlantic, European and global. Print culture, including studies in the newspaper and periodical press, book history, life writing and gender studies are particular strengths of this established series as are high quality single author studies. The series also embraces research in the field of digital humanities. The editors invite proposals from both younger and established scholars in all areas of nineteenth-century literary studies.