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Constance Naden

Scientist, Philosopher, Poet

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 The development of Naden’s thinking is explored in detail, with newly discovered unpublished poems and notes from her adolescence shedding important light upon this progression.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

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Conclusion

A Life Cut Short

not a unity of substance or of being, which makes no provision for diversities,

and indeed expressly excludes them, but a unity of relation,

which at once implies diversities, and renders them intelligible

— Constance Naden, ‘Cosmic Identity’, FR 188

This book has traced the trajectory of Constance Naden’s thinking through her pursuit of three interlinked disciplines: science, philosophy and poetry. In no case was this trajectory entirely linear, but within each Naden resisted specialization and embraced the broadest possible span of knowledge. As articulated in her late essay ‘Cosmic Identity’, she found a unity of relation in the midst of diversity, not exact equivalence but balance and mutuality.

This conclusion is concerned with the final two and a half years of Naden’s life, a period characterized by endings and beginnings during which she incorporated new elements into her unifying world scheme.1 The death of her grandmother in June 1887 led to a period of deep sorrow but also provided Naden with the personal and financial freedom to leave Birmingham. Naden’s activities become harder to pinpoint after she left Mason College and the slowing of publications makes it more difficult to follow the continuing development of her thinking. Naden sustained her identities as social scientist and philosopher, however, while stepping away from poetry, moving towards politics and opening up her geographical horizons. Here I trace these threads.

In the summer...

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