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UCD School of English, Drama & Film

Scoil an Bhéarla, na Drámaíochta agus na Scannánaíochta UCD

ENG30660 Literature and Science in the Nineteenth Century

Dr Fionnuala Dillane



Course Description

The nineteenth century witnessed dramatic developments in all areas of the sciences. Debates about science were integral to literary culture. The impact of new understandings of psychology, geology, biology, physiology, physics (on the environment; on religious belief; and on the sense of selfhood for example) is a key feature of writing from this period. This interdisciplinary course will examine how scientific issues were registered and debated across a range of literary genres (essays; novels; short stories; poems) from the 1830s-1890s. We will also consider the use of literary devices in scientific texts. Areas of interest that will shape our discussions include: evolution and degeneration; theories of race, gender, sexuality and class; interactions of the mind, the body and the machine. Writers studied include George Eliot, Charles Darwin, John Ruskin, Lewis Carroll, H.G. Wells and Alfred Tennyson.


Primary Texts (Note: many of these texts are available online. See


  •  George Eliot, The Lifted Veil (1859)
  •  Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
  •  Sheridan Le Fanu, ‘Carmilla’ and ‘Green Tea’ from In a Glass Darkly (1872)
  •  H.G. Wells, The Time Machine (1895)
  •  Laura Otis, ed. Literature and Science in the Nineteenth Century, An Anthology (2002)
  •   The Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume 2, Ed., M.H. Abrams et. al, which has all of the following primary texts:

·      Charles Darwin, from The Origin of the Species  (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871)

·     Alfred Lord Tennyson, from In Memoriam (1833-50)

·     Robert Browning, ‘Caliban upon Setebos’ (1864)

·     John Ruskin, ‘The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century (1884)

·     Edward Gosse, from Father and Son (1907)


Week by Week Reading:

Week 1 :  Introduction

Text:  ‘Prologue’ from Laura Otis, ed. Literature and Science in the 19th Century, pp 3-8.


Week 2: Facts and Faith 1

Texts: Charles Lyell, from Principles of Geology in Otis, ed., Literature and Science, pp246-252; Gosse, from Father and Son (in Norton)

Week 3: Nature

Text: Tennyson’s In Memoriam (in Norton)

Week 4: Theorising Science and Literature (see Blackboard for links to this week’s reading)

Week 5: Individual and the Species 1 – Man the Animal, Origins and Ends

Texts: Darwin from Origin of the Species and Descent of Man

Browning, ‘Caliban upon Setebos’ (both in Norton)


Week 6: Individual and the Species 2: Logic and Madness

Texts: Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland;

Edward Lear, A book of Nonsense (1861) available at

Week 7:  Ways of Seeing

Texts: George Eliot, The Lifted Veil; Mesmerism and Magnetism section of Otis, Literature and Science, pp391-110.

Week 8: Bodies and Minds

Text: ‘Carmilla’ and ‘Green Tea’ from Sheridan Le Fanu, In a Glass Darkly; Henry Maudsley, from Body and Mind in Otis, pp364-69; Frances Power Cobbe, ‘Unconscious Cerebration’ in Otis, pp424-427.

Week 9: New Worlds

Texts: Ruskin, ‘Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century’ (in Norton) and H.G. Wells, The Time Machine; Robert Knox, from The Races of Men in Otis, pp. 475-478.


Week 10:  Conclusion and review: neo-Victorian novels and the representation of Science (in class handout)


Learning outcomes:

  •  Identify the role of key scientific debates in the works of major nineteenth-century writers
  •  Increased critical awareness of cultural, social, historical and literary significance of such debates
  •  Deeper understanding of nineteenth-century literary and scientific culture
  •  Ability to analyse literary strategies in scientific texts from the period
  •  Improved analytical, critical and writing skills including the ability to produce an essay demonstrating knowledge of key points noted above.