Pickering & Chatto: Victorian Science and Literature

Pickering-Chatto-logo-and-nameI have recently acquired several copies of Gowan Dawson and Bernard Lightman’s (general editors) Victorian Science and Literature (2011; 2012), published by Pickering & Chatto Publishers. This amazing eight-volume collection provides rare primary sources on Victorian science, literature, and culture.

It comes in two parts. Part I contains four volumes. In Volume I Dawson and Lightman provide a general introduction to the series and begins by asking “how did the changing nature of science affect the relationship between science and literature over the course of the Victorian period?” In Negotiating Boundaries (edited by Piers J. Hale and Jonathan Smith), we thus have excepts and complete texts from from William Whewell, Robert Hunt, George Henry Lewes, John Henry Newman, High Miller, Eneas Sweetland Dallas, Charles Kingsley, Michael Faraday, Thomas Henry Huxley, John Tyndall, John Ruskin, Edward Dowden, a debate between Huxley and William Samuel Lilly, and Arthur James Balfour, all serving as examples of how scientists and literary figures negotiated a response to that question. Volume II concerns Victorian Science as Cultural Authority (edited by Suzy Anger and James Paradis), which follows Frank Turner’s “notion that scientific naturalists contested the cultural authority of the Anglican clergy to lead a modern, industrialized Britain.” This volume includes numerous works under subheadings of “Science as a Source of Cultural Authority,” “Science Lending New Cultural Authority to an Existing Field,” “Pro-Science and Anti-Science Satire or Parody,” and “Worlds that Project (or Contest) the Cultural Authority of Science.” In Volume III we see the religious implication and reaction to the new scientific knowledge in Science, Religion and Natural Theology (edited by Richard England and Jude V. Nixon). This volume also contains numerous authors discussing topics such as “The Divine Economy of Nature,” “Cosmic Considerations,” “Redesigning Darwin,” and “God and Nature: Knowing, Feeling,” demonstrating the “complex encounter between Victorian science and religion—an encounter [moreover] that cannot be reduced to the notion of conflict.” The final Volume IV of Part I focuses on The Evolutionary Epic (edited by David Amigoni and James Elwick), a “new genre of scientific writing that gripped the imagination of the Victorian reading public,” which were narratives of progress, from the formation of the solar system to evolution of humanity, synthesizing the latest astronomical, geological, and biological knowledge. Here we have a rich collection of texts from John Pringle Nichol, Miller, Hensleigh Wedgewood, Richard Owen, Herbert Spencer, Edmund Saul Dixon, William Winwood Reade, Edward Clodd, Huxley’s review of Ernst Haeckel, Grant Allen, Edwin Ray Lankester, Benjamin Kidd, Eliza Burt Gamble, and Peter Kropotkin.

Part II completes the series with Volumes V to VIII. However, I have acquired only Volume VII of Part II, Science as Romance (edited by Ralph O’Connor). This volume turns “to the theme of the fascination with nature as otherworldly, as captured in heroic biography, stories about talking animals, scientific fairytales, wondrous visions and fantastic voyages.” Here “science is presented as romance rather than as a collection of facts.” Here we have wonderful stories from William Wilson, Kingsley, John Cargill Brough, Arabella Buckley, John Gordon McPherson, Henry Hutchinson, Thomas Hawkins, and many others.

Each volume contains  a repository of well-known and less-known sources for expanding our understanding of Victorian science and literature. A must for researchers and postgraduates studying the history of science in nineteenth-century Britain.

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