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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 The development of Naden’s thinking is explored in detail, with newly discovered unpublished poems and notes from her adolescence shedding important light upon this progression.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 4: Poet


Chapter 4


My inclination prompts me to paint a picture or write a poem; but I do not

take the inclination twice over, and make it into an object. My object is not

satisfaction to myself, but the true expression of my thought.

— Constance Naden, ‘Evolutionary Ethics’, I&D 105

This chapter’s epigraph is a rare instance of Constance Naden casting herself explicitly in the role of painter and poet.1 Significantly, the distancing effect of philosophical prose enables Naden to identify most fully with these creative roles. The personal pronoun is notable given her use of pseudonyms that usually dissociate her identities as poet and philosopher. Naden’s description of her artistic inclinations provides an insight into her writing process: she claims that when she chooses to write poetry she is motivated by a need to explore the ‘true expression’ of her thoughts. This demonstration of Naden’s self-awareness exemplifies how, over the course of her writing life, she was preoccupied with what it means to be a poet, and what poetry might achieve. She continues,

This expression will indeed bring me satisfaction, but I shall not work so well if I think very much about the ultimate end. […] The results of my picture or poem, if it be good work, will be, let us say, beneficial to society; and yet benefit to society was not my object. (I&D 105)

This reflection...

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