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Novel Science

Fiction and the Invention of Nineteenth-Century Geology

Novel Science is the first in-depth study of the shocking, groundbreaking, and sometimes beautiful writings of the gentlemen of the “heroic age” of geology and of the contribution these men made to the literary culture of their day. For these men, literature was an essential part of the practice of science itself, as important to their efforts as mapmaking, fieldwork, and observation. The reading and writing of imaginative literatures helped them to discover, imagine, debate, and give shape and meaning to millions of years of previously undiscovered earth history.
Borrowing from the historical fictions of Walter Scott and the poetry of Lord Byron, they invented geology as a science, discovered many of the creatures we now call the dinosaurs, and were the first to unravel and map the sequence and structure of stratified rock. As Adelene Buckland shows, they did this by rejecting the grand narratives of older theories of the earth or of biblical cosmogony: theirs would be a humble science, faithfully recording minute details and leaving the big picture for future generations to paint. Buckland also reveals how these scientists—just as they had drawn inspiration from their literary predecessors—gave Victorian realist novelists such as George Eliot, Charles Kingsley, and Charles Dickens a powerful language with which to create dark and disturbing ruptures in the too-seductive sweep of story.

400 pages | 9 color plates, 28 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Earth Sciences: History of Earth Sciences

History of Science

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature


“Remarkable. . . . [T]his fascinating book introduced me to perspectives that neither I nor most geologists have ever really thought about. But as a result of reading this mind-expanding book, I am thinking about them now.”

Euan Clarkson, University of Edinburgh | Times Higher Education Supplement

“Buckland tries to get inside the heads of the Britons who were writing into existence a scientific geology while developing a great literary form: the nineteenth-century novel. She succeeds triumphantly.”

Ted Nield | Nature

“It is because Novel Science is so convincing that many readers are likely to become aware of its own mode of telling a story, of its conformity to our narrative conventions as literary and cultural critics and historians in our attempts to write authoritatively. It does what we would expect a strong contribution to this field to do: it locates itself in the wider field of literature and science and Victorian studies, for example, showing us clearly how it develops, and diverges from, previous works. It is also very well-written and a pleasure to read.”

Shelley Trower, Roehampton University | British Society for Literature and Science

“[A] dramatic and innovative interdisciplinary achievement. . . . With insight and subtlety, Buckland examines geological texts of literary significance and literary texts with geological relevance, and makes a good case for their interpretation and assimilation. . . . Highly recommended.”

A. R. Vogeler, California State University, Fullerton | Choice

“[An] excellent account.”

Trev Broughton | Times Literary Supplement

"Thoroughly researched, Novel Science, mingling as it does explorations of science writings and literary analyses of canonical Victorian novels, is a highly stimulating addition to the increasingly interdisciplinary field of English studies."

Laurence Talairach-Vielmas | Miranda

Novel Science is a significant and altogether engaging contribution to the field of history of science–meets–literary study. Adelene Buckland’s fresh and rigorous work takes seriously her claim that ‘if science was literature in the nineteenth century, it is the premise of this book that literature was science too.’ In committing itself to the fluidity between these discursive realms—without reducing science to just another narrative, or literature to a repository of scientific references—Novel Science takes up the further challenge of thinking in detail about the practice of geology. This is a major new argument that should be read not only by historians of science but also by literary critics.”

Amy M. King, St. John’s University

Novel Science is one of the most exciting and challenging contributions yet made to the booming field of science and literature studies. Combining meticulous and original historical research with groundbreaking readings of nineteenth-century novels and geological texts, it will surprise and delight anyone with an interest in this period, literary or historical. Adelene Buckland offers both a compelling reassessment of the Victorian novel in itself and a reframing of science’s place within literary culture, demonstrating that geology played a fundamental and formative role in the writing of fiction. Admirers of Gillian Beer’s Darwin’s Plots and George Levine’s Darwin and the Novelists now have a new classic to contend with.”

Ralph O’Connor, author of The Earth on Show

Table of Contents

Introduction Formations

Part One Stories in Science
     One Fictions of a Former World
     Two The Story Undone
     Three Lyell’s Mock Epic
     Four Maps and Legends

Part Two Science in Stories
     Five Kingsley’s Cataclysmic Method
     Six Eliot’s Whispering Stones
     Seven Dickens and the Geological City

Conclusion Losing the Plot

Appendix “Lines on Staffa,” by Charles Lyell



British Society for Literature and Science: BSLS Book Prize

Société de Physique et d'Histoire Naturelle de Genève: Marc-Auguste Pictet Prize for History of Science

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