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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 The development of Naden’s thinking is explored in detail, with newly discovered unpublished poems and notes from her adolescence shedding important light upon this progression.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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Chapter 1: Intellectual Biography


Chapter 1

Intellectual Biography

She wandered on easily from grave to gay, from serious to sentimental:

now discussing the latest scientific discovery –

now reciting some fine passage from the poets –

now deep in some philosophical theory

— Charles Lapworth, ‘Introduction’, Memoir xix

Science, poetry, philosophy – in a sentence Charles Lapworth describes the three key strands of Naden’s life and works. He captures the breadth of Naden’s learning and her ability to transform this into engaging conversation. The sheer rapidity of her intellect is communicated through the litany of nows, emphasizing her desire to synthesize, drawing together ideas from a variety of disciplines. These three fields of thought span Naden’s writings, forming the foundation of this intellectual biography and the analytical chapters that follow. The subsequent clause in Lapworth’s description – ‘now laughing over the comical idiosyncrasies of some great authority’ (Memoir xix) – offers an insight into Naden’s personality; that she sought humour as well as seriousness is evident in much of her writing. I use the aspects of Naden’s life that are a matter of record – her own published and unpublished works, reactions to this in the periodical press, posthumous memorializing and archival materials – to piece together her unified philosophical and social project. I trace how Naden’s education and intellectual interests sat within her society, and how she, and those around her, crafted a public persona that functioned to demonstrate the power of synthetic thinking.


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