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The Age of Analogy

Science and Literature between the Darwins

Devin Griffiths

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How did literature shape nineteenth-century science?

Erasmus Darwin and his grandson, Charles, were the two most important evolutionary theorists of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain. Although their ideas and methods differed, both Darwins were prolific and inventive writers: Erasmus composed several epic poems and scientific treatises, while Charles is renowned both for his collected journals (now titled The Voyage of the Beagle) and for his masterpiece, The Origin of Species.

In The Age of Analogy, Devin Griffiths argues that the Darwins’ writing style was profoundly influenced by…

How did literature shape nineteenth-century science?

Erasmus Darwin and his grandson, Charles, were the two most important evolutionary theorists of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain. Although their ideas and methods differed, both Darwins were prolific and inventive writers: Erasmus composed several epic poems and scientific treatises, while Charles is renowned both for his collected journals (now titled The Voyage of the Beagle) and for his masterpiece, The Origin of Species.

In The Age of Analogy, Devin Griffiths argues that the Darwins’ writing style was profoundly influenced by the poets, novelists, and historians of their era. The Darwins, like other scientists of the time, labored to refashion contemporary literary models into a new mode of narrative analysis that could address the contingent world disclosed by contemporary natural science. By employing vivid language and experimenting with a variety of different genres, these writers gave rise to a new relational study of antiquity, or "comparative historicism," that emerged outside of traditional histories. It flourished instead in literary forms like the realist novel and the elegy, as well as in natural histories that explored the continuity between past and present forms of life. Nurtured by imaginative cross-disciplinary descriptions of the past—from the historical fiction of Sir Walter Scott and George Eliot to the poetry of Alfred Tennyson—this novel understanding of history fashioned new theories of natural transformation, encouraged a fresh investment in social history, and explained our intuition that environment shapes daily life.

Drawing on a wide range of archival evidence and contemporary models of scientific and literary networks, The Age of Analogy explores the critical role analogies play within historical and scientific thinking. Griffiths also presents readers with a new theory of analogy that emphasizes language's power to foster insight into nature and human society. The first comparative treatment of the Darwins’ theories of history and their profound contribution to the study of both natural and human systems, this book will fascinate students and scholars of nineteenth-century British literature and the history of science.

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Devin Griffiths

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Reviews

[A] serious, detailed, and convincing account with few unexplored avenues. Recommended.

The Age of Analogy represents a valuable contribution to scholarship on literature and science. Building on the established models of new historicism and of Gillian Beer's foundational work on Darwinism, it nonetheless offers something new by asking researchers in this field to think more carefully about the kinds of historicism that operate both in their own work and in nineteenth-century literary and scientific writing.

The Age of Analogy is perhaps the most ambitious and important book on the entanglement of nineteenth-century scientific culture and literature to have been written this century—in a field of highly ambitious and truly important books. But it also elucidates the entanglement of nineteenth-century culture with our own, bringing light to contemporary historicist practices, particularly in literary studies.

For those interested in either of the intertwined histories of literature and science—or in what we might more generously call the intellectual culture of the 1780s through the 1850s—Griffiths' book is both readable and richly rewarding.

This ambitious work should shape future thinking about historicism, science and literature in the nineteenth century and beyond in new and significant ways. Griffiths deserves to be congratulated on having achieved this and, in the process, on having written some of the best recent criticism on Charles Darwin and George Eliot in particular, which is no mean feat in itself.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
352
ISBN
9781421436326
Illustration Description
7 halftones, 3 line drawings
Table of Contents

Introduction: Analogy under a Different Form
Prelude: Thinking through Analogy
1. Erasmus Darwin, Enlightenment History, and the Crisis of Analogy
2. Crossing the Border with Walter Scott
3. Spooky Action

Introduction: Analogy under a Different Form
Prelude: Thinking through Analogy
1. Erasmus Darwin, Enlightenment History, and the Crisis of Analogy
2. Crossing the Border with Walter Scott
3. Spooky Action in Alfred Tennyson's In Memoriam A. H. H.
4. Falsifying George Eliot
5. The Origin of Charles Darwin's Orchids
Coda: Climate Science and the "No-Analog Future"
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio
Devin Griffiths
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Devin Griffiths

Devin Griffiths, a former biologist who studied artificial evolution, is an associate professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Southern California.