Literary Dimensions Seminar
The year 1800 was a breakthrough moment for the enterprise of British chemistry. It saw the invention of Alessandro Volta's battery, and Humphrey Davy would soon build one at the Royal Society that enabled him to carry out the experiments in electrolysis that yielded the discovery of potassium, sodium and chlorine. 1800 also saw major literary experiments by the long venerated William Wordsworth and the long neglected Maria Edgeworth. This lecture considers implications of their ongoing interventions for the understanding of "literature and science." In 1802, Wordsworth added to Lyrical Ballads a new account of the relation of the poet and the "man of science," an account that turned in part on distinguishing the special character of the poet, and on identifying the poet's singular capacity to shape the character of engaged readers. Simultaneously, Edgeworth, then the most influential novelist writing in English, would follow Castle Rackrent (1800) with Belinda (1802), a novel praised by Jane Austen, in which Edgeworth elaborated a different model. In place of a literature that assimilates familiarized scientific discoveries into material for the expression of poetic genius, she turns literary fiction itself into a medium of ongoing scientific experiment for the discovery of character—discovery both within the world of the novel and in the experience of its readers.
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For more information, please contact Cecilia Lu by phone at 626-395-1724 or by email.