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Imagination and Science in Romanticism

Richard C. Sha

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How did the idea of the imagination impact Romantic literature and science?

Winner of the Jean-Pierre Barricelli Book Prize of the International Conference on Romanticism

Richard C. Sha argues that scientific understandings of the imagination indelibly shaped literary Romanticism. Challenging the idea that the imagination found a home only on the side of the literary, as a mental vehicle for transcending the worldly materials of the sciences, Sha shows how imagination helped to operationalize both scientific and literary discovery. Essentially, the imagination forced writers to consider the…

How did the idea of the imagination impact Romantic literature and science?

Winner of the Jean-Pierre Barricelli Book Prize of the International Conference on Romanticism

Richard C. Sha argues that scientific understandings of the imagination indelibly shaped literary Romanticism. Challenging the idea that the imagination found a home only on the side of the literary, as a mental vehicle for transcending the worldly materials of the sciences, Sha shows how imagination helped to operationalize both scientific and literary discovery. Essentially, the imagination forced writers to consider the difference between what was possible and impossible while thinking about how that difference could be known.

Sha examines how the imagination functioned within physics and chemistry in Percy Bysshe Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, neurology in Blake's Vala, or The Four Zoas, physiology in Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, and obstetrics and embryology in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. He also demonstrates how the imagination was called upon to do aesthetic and scientific work using primary examples taken from the work of scientists and philosophers Davy, Dalton, Faraday, Priestley, Kant, Mary Somerville, Oersted, Marcet, Smellie, Swedenborg, Blumenbach, Buffon, Erasmus Darwin, and Von Baer, among others.

Sha concludes that both fields benefited from thinking about how imagination could cooperate with reason—but that this partnership was impossible unless imagination's penchant for fantasy could be contained.

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Imagination and Science in Romanticism

Richard C. Sha

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Reviews

Reviews

This impressive monograph will remain, I suspect, the most important resource on Romantic literature and science for many decades to come. This book changes how we view not only Romanticism but also the broader relationship between literature and science.

A fascinating read and discovery of literary and scientific interconnections.

For Sha, the concept of imagination is the key to unlocking relations between science and literature, since the faculty was viewed as central to scientific inquiry and literary creativity alike. Sha demonstrates that scientific thinkers, far from being antipathetic to the imagination, repeatedly indulged it and then tested its results experimentally. [I am] grateful for many penetrating insights in Sha's book.

Richard C. Sha's exemplary Imagination and Science in Romanticism centers the Romantic imagination within scientific ways of knowing. Each chapter contains intriguing and thorough discussions of science, and subtle, detailed readings of literary texts. There is a wealth of wonderfully collated material here and fine-grained contextualization; readers interested in Romanticism and science will find the individual chapters rewarding.

Richard Sha's Imagination and Science in Romanticism is required reading for anyone interested in the relations between Romantic science and literature.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
344
ISBN
9781421439839
Illustration Description
3 halftones
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Chapter One. Imagining Dynamic Matter: Percy Shelley, Prometheus Unbound, and the Chemistry and Physics of Matter
Chapter Two. William Blake and the Neurological

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Chapter One. Imagining Dynamic Matter: Percy Shelley, Prometheus Unbound, and the Chemistry and Physics of Matter
Chapter Two. William Blake and the Neurological Imagination: Romantic Science, Nerves, and the Emergent Self
Chapter Three. The Physiological Imagination: Coleridge’s Biographia
Chapter Four. Obstetrics and Embryology: Science and Imagination in Frankenstein
Notes
Works Cited
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Richard C. Sha

Richard C. Sha is a professor of literature at American University, where he is a member of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. He is the author of Perverse Romanticism: Aesthetics and Sexuality in Britain, 1750–1832 and the coeditor of Romanticism and the Emotions.