Science transformed Victorian culture. The laws of the conservation of energy changed understandings of the physical world. Charles Darwin's theories of evolution altered the conception of what it meant to be human. Science also changed people's ways of conceiving of their origins and the world in which they lived. Yet the spread of scientific naturalism created among many tin the culture a sense that meaning had gone out of the world, and led to heated debates over the claims of science versus those of religion.
This course will examine the ways in which Victorian writers represent the tensions between religion and science in their works. We will read literary texts that portray scientist (a term coined in the period) and contemporary scientific issues, alongside scientific writing by Darwin and others. We will also examine literary texts that pose spiritual and aesthetic challenges to science's increasing cultural authority. Topics discussed will include the vivisection debate, new physiological conceptions of the mind (versus the concepts of the soul), the spiritualist movement, cultural interpretations of evolutionary biology, the relations between science and ethics, and the emergence of the genre of scientific romance (what we now call science fiction).