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The Divine in the Commonplace

The Divine in the Commonplace
Reverent Natural History and the Novel in Britain

$80.00 USD

Part of Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture

  • Date Published: July 2019
  • availability: This ISBN is for an eBook version which is distributed on our behalf by a third party.
  • format: Adobe eBook Reader
  • isbn: 9781316998441

$ 80.00 USD
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About the Authors
  • Realism has long been associated with the secular, but in early nineteenth-century England a realist genre existed that was highly theological: popular natural histories informed by natural theology. The Divine in the Commonplace explores the 'reverent empiricism' of English natural history and how it conceives observation and description as a kind of devotion or act of reverence. Focusing on the texts of popular natural historians, especially seashore naturalists, Amy M. King puts these in conversation with English provincial realist novelists including Austen, Gaskell, Eliot, and Trollope. She argues that the English provincial novel has a 'reverent form' as a result of its connection to the practices and representational strategies of natural history writing in this period, which was literary, empirical, and reverent. This book will appeal to students and scholars of nineteenth-century literature, science historians, and those interested in interdisciplinary connections between pre-Darwinian natural history, religion, and literature.

    • Brings the popular Victorian genre of natural history into greater critical prominence as both a scientific contribution and a non-fiction genre with literary attributes
    • Examines how Victorians observed commonplace nature as both an act of scientific observation and reverence
    • Explores the connection between the novel and a theological understanding of nature, and the way in which the novel may express theology in altered forms
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'In this elegantly written study of the relationship between nineteenth-century natural history, natural theology, and the English novel, King has shown how all three are designed to celebrate the commonplace. Rather than reading this as a sign of the advance of a secular empiricism, King brilliantly explores how the focus on the ordinary, the hallmark of English provincial realism à la Austen, Gaskell, Kingsley, Trollope, and Eliot, is actually indebted to the reverent form of natural history.' Bernard Lightman, York University

    'Amy King's The Divine in the Commonplace marks a quiet but major revision in our thinking about Victorian realism. Instead of reading it in relation to secular scientific empiricism, she demonstrates with scholarly authority its greater closeness to natural history writing and its religious understanding of the natural world. Her analysis of its strategies and of novels that emulate it is startlingly new, and her wonderful coinage, 'reverent empiricism', should become a standard descriptive term in criticism of the Victorian novel.' George Levine, Rutgers University, New Jersey

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    Product details

    • Date Published: July 2019
    • format: Adobe eBook Reader
    • isbn: 9781316998441
    • contains: 11 b/w illus. 2 maps
    • availability: This ISBN is for an eBook version which is distributed on our behalf by a third party.
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: natural history, the theology of nature, and the novel
    1. Reverent natural history, the sketch, and the novel: modes of English realism in White, Mitford, and Austen
    2. Early Victorian natural history: reverent empiricism and the aesthetic of the commonplace
    3. The formal realism of reverent natural history: tidepools, aquaria and the seashore natural histories of P. H. Gosse and G. H. Lewes
    4. Reverence at the seashore: seashore natural history, Charles Kingsley's Two Years Ago (1855), and Margaret Gatty's Parables from Nature (1857)
    5. Seeing the divine in the commonplace: George Eliot's paranaturalist realism, 1856–1859
    6. Elizabeth Gaskell's everyday: Reverent form and natural theology in Sylvia's Lovers (1863) and Wives and Daughters (1866)
    Epilogue: Barsetshire via Selborne: Anthony Trollope's The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867).

  • Author

    Amy M. King, St John's University, New York
    Amy M. King is Associate Professor of English at St John's University, New York. She is the author of Bloom: The Botanical Vernacular in the English Novel (2003)

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