Beautiful Science: Victorian Women's Scientific Poetry and Prose

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Boswell, Michelle
Rudy, Jason R
Recent scholarship in literary studies and the history of science has demonstrated increasing interest in scientific writing by women. &ldquo;Beautiful Science&rdquo; investigates why form and genre are important interpretive tools&mdash;not static categories&mdash;for considering ways in which women entered Victorian scientific debates, how they accommodated scientific ideas for various audiences, and how formal tensions within their texts reveal broader intellectual frictions between secular and religious science in nineteenth-century Britain. Far from being marginal figures in scientific studies, the voices of these women were prominent, and their interpretations of contemporary theories shaped the reception of science among nonspecialists. Literary forms and genres&mdash;including parables, fairy tales, verse dramas, novels, and comic poems&mdash;brought with them a wide horizon of readerly expectations into conversations about science. Deploying these genres for a variety of purposes, women science writers could deliver new knowledge in familiar, recognizable literary ways. My first chapter uncovers Mary Somerville use of Byron's closet drama <italic>Cain</italic> both to explain an astronomical phenomenon, parallax, and to respond to the play's depiction of its protagonist's response to &ldquo;sublime&rdquo; astronomical distance. In chapter two, I demonstrate how Margaret Gatty and Arabella Buckley employ the genres of parable, beast fables, and fairy tales to negotiate the entangled debates of morality, religion, science, and education in the Victorian era. Chapter three suggests that reading George Eliot's early &ldquo;Ilfracombe Journal,&rdquo; her <italic>Westminister Review</italic> essays, and <italic>The Mill on the Floss</italic> within a tradition of Victorian natural history writing illuminates matters of form and exchange within both natural history narratives and the development of the mid-Victorian novel. Lastly, in chapter four I argue Constance Naden's comic &ldquo;Evolutional Erotics&rdquo; poems and her philosophical poems all suggest an engagement with scientific and philosophical discourse at the level of prosody, particularly in Naden's choices of rhyme. As a whole, &ldquo;Beautiful Science&rdquo; argues that an examination of form and genre within both the nineteenth-century literary publishing world and the discourses of scientific popularization reveal the mutual exchange between both realms, and that Victorian women's writing makes these changes most visible.