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Constance Naden

Scientist, Philosopher, Poet


Clare Stainthorp

Constance Naden (1858–1889) is a unique voice in Victorian literature and science. This book, the first full-length critical account of her life and works, brings into focus the reciprocal nature of Naden’s poetry, philosophical essays and scientific studies. The development of Naden’s thinking is explored in detail, with newly discovered unpublished poems and notes from her adolescence shedding important light upon this progression.

Close readings of Naden’s wide-ranging corpus of poetry and prose trace her commitment to an interdisciplinary world-scheme that sought unity in diversity. This book demonstrates how a rigorous scientific education, a thorough engagement with poetry and philosophy of the long nineteenth century, an involvement with the Victorian radical atheist movement, and a comic sensibility each shaped Naden’s intellectual achievements. Naden sought to show how the light of reason is made even brighter by the spark of poetic creation and how the imagination is as much a tool of the scientist and the philosopher as the artist.

Taking a comprehensive approach to this complex and overlooked figure of the Victorian period, Stainthorp demonstrates how Naden’s texts provide a new and important vantage point from which to consider synthetic thinking as a productive and creative force within nineteenth-century intellectual culture.

This book was the winner of the 2017 Peter Lang Young Scholars Competition in Nineteenth-Century Studies.

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Introduction: Unity in Diversity



Unity in Diversity

these seemingly rival spheres constitute but one Cosmos

— Constance Naden, ‘Prefatory Note’, I&D xxii

Constance Naden’s works reveal a life-long desire to find unity in diversity. Born in 1858 and dying just thirty-one years later, in her short life Naden excelled in the sciences, arts and philosophy, as well as ancient and modern languages. By engaging with ideas in a synthetic manner, Naden sought to demonstrate the mutual dependence of all modes of thought, writing in a late essay that ‘The task of philosophy is the unification of life’ (FR 151). Charles Lapworth, who taught her geology, wrote that ‘She listened, she read, she selected, and she assimilated; and the new ideas, the novel views, grew to be her own’ (Memoir xv). Naden’s poetry and prose works elaborate upon the reciprocal relationship between art, science and philosophy, illuminating a strong nineteenth-century interdisciplinary urge. She sought to understand the universe, and our place within it, by demonstrating the need to consider multiple disciplinary perspectives simultaneously.

In her ‘Prefatory Note’ to Induction and Deduction (1890), the volume of essays published soon after her death, Naden explained that her work was underpinned by ‘the principle, implied where not explicit, that man evolves from his inner nature the world of experience as well as the world of thought; that, in fact, these seemingly rival spheres constitute but one Cosmos’ (I&D xxi–xxii). This idealism was nonetheless...

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