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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 The development of Naden’s thinking is explored in detail, with newly discovered unpublished poems and notes from her adolescence shedding important light upon this progression.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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To Julian Rees and Margaret Mary Hall, Constance Naden’s descendants, I owe a great debt of gratitude. It was through them that the existence of Naden’s notebooks came to light, and it is as a result of their kindness that I was able to consult these. Their further generosity led to these items being donated to the Cadbury Research Library in Birmingham, ensuring that others can freely access these fascinating texts.

I owe so much to my supportive and inspiring supervisors – John Holmes, Will Tattersdill and Deborah Longworth – whose encouragement, enthusiasm and insightfulness was invaluable as this project developed. I am indebted to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for the doctoral funding that allowed me to complete the majority of this research at the University of Birmingham. I also want to thank the British Association of Romantic Studies and the British Association of Victorian Studies, whose Nineteenth-Century Matters Early Career Fellowship provided me with the time and space to bring this book to fruition, and to thank those at Cardiff University who made me so welcome.

I am grateful for the incredible intellectual generosity of Katy Birch, Michelle Boswell, Adam Fernovski, Jonathan Memel, Ana Parejo Vadillo, Sarah Parker, Marion Thain, and Al Wilson, alongside many others who, at conferences and online, demonstrated outstanding academic kindness. I also want to thank this book’s anonymous readers, whose insights have improved my work immeasurably.

I greatly appreciate the support I received from the staff...

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