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Literature and Science

Literature and Science

Edited by Sharon Ruston
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 188
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  • Book Info
    Literature and Science
    Book Description:

    In 1959 C. P. Snow memorably described the `gulf of mutual incomprehension' which existed between `literary intellectuals' and scientists, referring to them as `two cultures'. This volume looks at the extent to which this has changed. Ranging from the middle ages to twentieth-century science fiction and literary theory, and using different texts, genres, and methodologies, the essays collected here demonstrate the complexity of literature, science, and the interfaces between them. Texts and authors discussed include Ian McEwan's Saturday; Sheridan le Fanu; The Birth of Mankind; Franco Morretti; Anna Barbauld; Dorothy L. Sayers; The Cloud of Unknowing; George Eliot and Mary Wollstonecraft. Dr SHARON RUSTON is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Keele. CONTRIBUTORS: SHARON RUSTON, GILLIAN RUDD, ELAINE HOBBY, ALICE JENKINS, KATY PRICE, MARTIN WILLIS, BRIAN BAKER, DAVID AMIGONI

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-655-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. x-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    When interviewed by theTimesin August 2007 V. S. Naipaul said that English literature departments in universities should be closed down. Naipaul claimed that universities should only teach science and that they should only ‘deal in measurable truth’ (Appleyard 2007). This is a striking case of a man best known as a novelist denying the validity of the professional literary critic. One might draw a parallel with C. P. Snow’s Rede Lecture in 1959, in which he too objected to ‘literary intellectuals’ (Snow 2005, 4). Why is it that literary critics engender such feelings in the authors they study...

  7. 1. From Popular Science to Contemplation: The Clouds of The Cloud of Unknowing
    (pp. 13-34)

    This article deals with the clouds which give the medieval mystical treatiseThe Cloud of Unknowingits name. Rather than being solely metaphorical, the clouds of forgetting (beneath the contemplative) and unknowing (above and affected by light) have much in common with clouds as explained by contemporary books of popular science, such asSidrak and Bokkusand John Trevisa’sOn the Properties of Things. This demonstrates how these medieval texts exemplify the blending of scientific and literary modes recently advocated by Gould (2003).¹ In general, these religious and scientific texts combine factual observation, deduction and religious interpretation with direct human...

  8. 2. ‘dreams and plain dotage’: The Value of The Birth of Mankind (1540–1654)
    (pp. 35-52)

    WhenThe Birth of Mankindfirst appeared in print in 1540, it initiated a new kind of publication in Britain: this ‘scientific’ book was the first published text in English that sought to explain to the general reader where babies come from and how to look after them in their infancy. It was to become a phenomenal success, remaining in print in its revised and expanded version of 1545 for more than one hundred years, and passing through many more editions than have yet been counted.¹ This essay will sketch the book’s history, before going on to use it as...

  9. 3. Natural Rights and Natural History in Anna Barbauld and Mary Wollstonecraft
    (pp. 53-71)

    In this article I explore the ways that two writers, Anna Barbauld and Mary Wollstonecraft, used animals and natural history to push for natural rights. In the late eighteenth century cruelty to animals was a significant issue for those on all sides of the political spectrum, from radicals and dissenters to the socially and politically conservative Evangelical thinkers, such as William Wilberforce and Hannah More, who were against slavery and animal suffering but who did not argue for rights for all. Barbauld used animals to promote rights for dissenters, while Wollstonecraft explicitly used natural rights to argue for equality for...

  10. 4. George Eliot, Geometry and Gender
    (pp. 72-90)

    Since the publication in the 1980s of Gillian Beer’sDarwin’s Plotsand George Levine’sDarwin and the Novelists, the map of Victorian literature has been almost wholly redrawn through critical interest in the relationships of literary and scientific writing. Very little attention indeed, however, has been given by literary scholars to the workings ofmathematicsin Victorian culture. This is a problematic absence from both Victorian studies and literature and science studies. It has resulted in a tendency to overemphasize the cultural impact of some scientific disciplines, and hence in a skewing of our understanding of the readership for and...

  11. 5. On the Back of the Light Waves: ‘Novel Possibilities in the “Fourth Dimension”
    (pp. 91-110)

    In 1934 Dorothy L. Sayers paid tribute to a popular science author whom she admired very much, when she had Lord Peter Wimsey travel ‘[o] n the back of the light waves’ in solving a murder case (Sayers 1934b, 195). Her short story ‘Absolutely Elsewhere’ was published inStrand Magazinein February, having appeared across the Atlantic the previous month under the title ‘Impossible Alibi’ in Mystery,the Illustrated Detective Magazine. ‘Absolutely Elsewhere’ was subsequently broadcast by the BBC in 1940. By 1934 the trajectory of Wimsey’s character development (commenced in 1920) was approaching completion and the aristocratic detective was...

  12. 6. Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’, Ireland, and Diseased Vision
    (pp. 111-130)

    Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s vampire narrative ‘Carmilla’ (1872) has come to prominence through two seemingly very different scholarly endeavors in the last twenty-five years. The first is Irish studies, given impetus by W. J. McCormack’s (1980) political and literary biography of Le Fanu, which has sought to revisit Irish and Anglo-Irish literary history utilizing a historicist political methodology. The second is gothic studies, which has given ‘Carmilla’ a position of some esteem as a short story that can very profitably be examined by recourse to emerging theories of gender and sexuality. Recently, these two fields of study have moved closer...

  13. 7. Evolution, Literary History and Science Fiction
    (pp. 131-150)

    This first line of the Preface of George Levine’s study of Darwinian discourse and its connection to the nineteenth-century novel,Darwin Among The Novelists(1988) quotes G.H. Lewes’s remark ‘that “science is penetrating everywhere” ’ (Levine 1988, vii). Twenty years later, this volume ofEssays and Studiesattests to the continuing, perhaps burgeoning, importance of scientific paradigms to literary study. Where some literary critics, such as N. Katherine Hayles, have taken up cybernetics and information theory as scientific theories by which to critique ‘postmodern’ or ‘posthuman’ constructions of the subject, it has been more usual for the biological, rather than...

  14. 8. ‘The luxury of storytelling’: Science, Literature and Cultural Contest in Ian McEwan’s Narrative Practice
    (pp. 151-168)

    In Ian McEwan’sEnduring Love, Joe Rose, the narrator of the story and a science journalist by profession, undertakes some research towards his next project, about ‘the death of anecdote and narrative in science’ (McEwan 1998, 41).¹ In doing this, he ventures to the London Library, a place that the philosopher of neo-Darwinism, Daniel C. Dennett, might refer to as a branch of ‘the library of Babel’.² Rose is more at home in the harder edged world of Babel’s analogue and antithesis – what Dennett referred to as ‘the library of Mendel’, or the DNA holdings of letter sequences, codes and...

  15. Index
    (pp. 169-176)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 177-177)