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Literature and Science in the Nineteenth Century

Literature and Science in the Nineteenth Century

Laura Otis


Although we are used to thinking of science and the humanities as separate disciplines, in the nineteenth century that division was not recognized. As the scientist John Tyndall pointed out, not only were science and literature both striving to better ‘man’s estate’, they shared a common language and cultural heritage. The same subjects occupied the writing of scientists and novelists: the quest for “origins”, the nature of the relation between society and the individual, and what it meant to be human. This anthology brings together a generous selection of scientific and literary material to explore the exchanges and interactions between them. Fed by a common imagination, scientists and creative writers alike used stories, imagery, style, and structure to convey their meaning, and to produce work of enduring power.


The anthology includes writing by Charles Babbage, Charles Darwin, Sir Humphry Davy, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Michael Faraday, Thomas Malthus, Louis Pasteur, Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, Mark Twain and many others, and introductions and notes guide the reader through the topic’s many strands.

Oxford World’s Classics


Laura Otis

Trained as a neuroscientist and literary scholar, Laura Otis, Ph.D., studies the ways literature and science intersect. In her interdisciplinary research, she compares scientific and literary writers’ descriptions of memory, identity, emotion, and thought. Her research has been supported by MacArthur, Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Humboldt Fellowships.


Otis earned her B.S. in Biochemistry at Yale University, her M.A. in Neuroscience from the University of California at San Francisco, her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Cornell University, and her M.F.A. in Fiction from Warren Wilson College. Since 2004 she has been a Professor of English at Emory University, where she teaches interdisciplinary courses on literature, neuroscience, cognitive science, and medicine.


She is the author of “Organic Memory” (1994), “Membranes” (1999), “Networking” (2001), “Müller’s Lab” (2007), “Rethinking Thought” (2016), and “Banned Emotions” (2019). She has also translated neurobiologist Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s “Vacation Stories” (2001) into English and has edited “Literature and Science in the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology” (2002, available on DCPAS). A fiction writer as well as a scholar, she is the author of the novels “Clean”, “Refiner’s Fire”, “Lacking in Substance”, “The Tantalus Letters”, and “The Memory Hive”.


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