HIS 350L • Darwin and the Victorian Novel-W
3:30 PM-6:30 PM
Science, and particularly natural history, was wildly popular to an unprecedented de-gree in Victorian Britain. Collecting, reading, learning taxonomy, correspondence with other interested people, membership in amateur scientific societies, all mushroomed be-ginning in the first few decades of the nineteenth century; by the beginning of Victo-rias reign in 1837 interest in natural history was commonplace. Natural history was all the rage to such a degree that Darwins ORIGIN OF SPECIES, on its publication in 1859, could be (and was meant to be) read by a wider audience than has perhaps ever been the case for any other major scientific work. Moreover, a novelist like George Eliot could incorpor-ate the latest scientific ideas of the day both explicitly and implicitly into her work, in a dialogue between science and aesthetics that seemed strange to no one. How did this confluence between science and the humanities come about? What were its results, both in the way that scientists expressed their ideas and that humanists understood and used them?
In this course, we will look at two major Victorian texts, Charles Darwins ORIGIN OF SPECIES and George Eliots MIDDLEMARCH, to try to tease apart the strands that wove them. In these texts, along with others from the periodwritings on natural theology, popular natural history, philosophy, psychology, and political theorywe will look at a variety of questions: How was Darwins work, in theme, content, and style, indebted to earli-er writ-ers? What constitutes an explanation? A proof? What is the purpose of narrative; that is, where does writing stories fit into science, and how do scientific stories fit in-to fiction? What is the nature of history? Of progress? Does science teach us about the place of peoplewomen, children, other racesin society? These works bubble over with Victori-an enthusiasm for the tough questions.
Readings in primary sources: GARDENERS MAGAZINE, etc. It is important not just to read the middles; look at the title page, the dedication, the ads in the back, and so forth. All are important data. Other readings are in the course reader. Copies of THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES and MIDDLE-MARCH are on order in the bookstores and around generally.