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The Age of Analogy

Science and Literature between the Darwins

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.

About the Author

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

Reviews

"This is a serious, detailed, and convincing account with few unexplored avenues... Recommended. All academic levels/libraries."

- Choice

"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."

- Isis

"Recommended."

- Choice

"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"

- Review of English 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."

- Review 19

"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."

- British Society for Literature and Science

"The book is well written and the richness of the study is impressive... It is precisely because of this wide-ranging approach that The Age of Analogy demonstrates so convincingly that, while the scholarship on analogy is not new, Griffiths takes it to another level where he explores events in a pluralist state of time. This, he terms comparative historicism. As such, The Age of Analogy makes a valuable contribution to the humanities and sciences."

- Metascience

"The Age of Analogy promises to transform our understanding of literary and scientific history in the Anthropocene. This is a big, challenging, eloquent book. I cannot recommend it highly enough."

- Nineteenth-Century Contexts

"As Griffiths builds his argument and examines his literary examples, he, in effect, applies the analogical paradigm he theorized in the opening chapters, generating a compelling set of insights into modes of thought that circulated in the first half of the nineteenth century, some of which continue to shape and define our own times.... a necessary intervention..."

- Journal of British Studies

"... deeply impressive book..."

- SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900

Endorsements

"This is an outstanding piece of work: original, boldly conceived, deeply researched, analytically subtle, and consistently compelling. Griffiths takes a strikingly different approach to the connection between literary studies and the history of science, exploring their shared intellectual and rhetorical medium in the emergent discourse of comparative historicism."

- Ian Duncan, University of California−Berkeley

"A "missing link" connects the speculative poetry of Erasmus Darwin to his grandson Charles’s Origin of Species: the rise of comparative historicism. So runs the eye-opening, compelling argument of Devin Griffiths’s The Age of Analogy. Walter Scott’s historically minded novels and Darwin’s orchids have never seemed so intimately linked!"

- John Plotz, Brandeis University

"The Age of Analogy does nothing less than create a new way of thinking about the construction of historical and scientific narrative in the long nineteenth century. Griffiths’ demonstration of the crucial role played by the humanization of analogical method in the historical novel brilliantly succeeds in tracing the tropological origin of The Origin of Species. More than this, it allows the relations between literary and scientific narrative to be revalued, and the critical periodization of "Romantic" and "Victorian" to be remodeled. A remarkable book."

- Tim Fulford, De Montfort University

"An enormously ambitious book, moving from Erasmus to Charles Darwin, The Age of Analogy expertly handles several disciplinary discourses. Building on the distinction between "analogy" and "comparison," Griffiths demonstrates how science and literature mutually influence each other, provides exhaustive new readings of Scott and Eliot, and makes important contributions to the histories of literature and science."

- George Levine, Rutgers University

"The Age of Analogy is a tour-de-force. With an argument both brilliant and moving, Griffiths shows how nineteenth-century writers and scientists created a comparative historicism that shapes modernity as we know it today. Most valuable is his startlingly fresh take on the ties that bind literature and science together. A stunning achievement."

- Lynn Voskuil, University of Houston

"In The Age of Analogy, Devin Griffiths squares conceptual circles with enormous erudition and aplomb. Bridging the gap between the two Darwins, he maps the evolution of "evolution" onto broader shifts from analogical to historical ways of seeing, via illuminating new readings of key literary texts from Scott to Eliot."

- Martin Priestman, University of Roehampton

"This is an ambitious, insightful book. While many have recognised the importance of analogy in Charles Darwin's thought, Griffiths reconsiders its role in a bold re-thinking of historical comparativism, revaluing both the eighteenth-century work of Erasmus Darwin, as well the Romantic and Victorian writings of Scott and Tennyson. A major contribution."

- David Amigoni, Keele University

"Ambitious in its scope and vision and eloquently written, The Age of Analogy is a challenging and thought-provoking study that gives us new and enriching ways to read nineteenth-century intellectual history"

- Dickens Quarterly

"What is exhilarating about The Age of Analogy is its bold insistence upon the utility of imaginative literary form as an active agent in science, with the power not only to reflect knowledge of the world but to add to it as well."

- Literature and History

"A book of enormous erudition, especially for a first book... Great books change how criticism does its business, this happens far more rarely than one might think."

- Wordsworth Circle

"The Age of Analogy promises to transform our understanding of literary and scientific history in the Anthropocene. This is a big, challenging, eloquent book. I cannot recommend it highly enough."

- Nineteenth-Century Contexts

"Devin Griffith's multifaceted, richly textured The Age of Analogy: Science and Literature between the Darwins argues that the nineteenth century saw the emergence of a new mode of engaging with history—"comparative historicism"—that increasingly fostered what Griffiths calls a "flat" view of temporal existence (4, 245)... Griffith's method exemplifies the same kind of analogical reasoning that his book investigates. In most cases, it does this with remarkable success, furnishing the field of Victorian science and literature with some truly fresh inspiration and insight."

- Victorian Studies
Johns Hopkins University Press
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