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Hardcover | $30.00 Short | £20.95 | ISBN: 9780262013727 | 360 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | 2 b&w illus.| February 2010
Paperback | $14.95 Trade | £10.95 | ISBN: 9780262517317 | 360 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | 2 b&w illus.| February 2012

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Essential Info


Energy in Victorian Literature and Science


In ThermoPoetics, Barri Gold sets out to show us how analogous, intertwined, and mutually productive poetry and physics may be. Charting the simultaneous emergence of the laws of thermodynamics in literature and in physics that began in the 1830s, Gold finds that not only can science influence literature, but literature can influence science, especially in the early stages of intellectual development. Nineteenth-century physics was often conducted in words. And, Gold claims, a poet could be a genius in thermodynamics and a novelist could be a damn good engineer.

Gold's lively readings of works by Alfred Tennyson, Charles Dickens, Herbert Spencer, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, and others offer a decidedly literary introduction to such elements of thermodynamic thought as conservation and dissipation, the linguistic tension between force and energy, the quest for a grand unified theory, strategies for coping within an inexorably entropic universe, and the demonic potential of the thermodynamically savvy individual. Victorian literature embraced the language and ideas of energy physics to address the era's concerns about religion, evolution, race, class, empire, gender, and sexuality. Gold argues that these concerns in turn shaped the hopes and fears expressed about the new physics. With ThermoPoetics Gold not only offers us a new lens through which to view Victorian literature, but also provides in-depth examples of the practical applications of such a lens. Thus Gold shows us that in In Memoriam, Tennyson expresses thermodynamic optimism with a vision of transformation after loss; in A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens produces order in spite of the universal drive to entropy, and in Bleak House he treats the novel itself as series of engines; and Wilde's Dorian Gray and Stoker's Dracula reveal the creative potential of chaos.

About the Author

Barri J. Gold is Associate Professor of English at Muhlenberg College.


“Brilliant. A model of what a rigorous engagement with the relationship between culture and science ought to look like. Thermopoetics demonstrates compellingly how central thermodynamics was to the Victorian literary imaginary.”—Allen MacDuffie, Literature Compass

ThermoPoetics will appeal to a broad audience ranging from general readers of Victoriana to scholarly readers of cultural studies and dedicated literature and science specialists, to Victorianists and nineteenth-century literature scholars, in general and across national divisions. This work of responsive and responsible scholarship is an important contribution to the field of literature and science.”—Bruce Clark, Metascience

ThermoPoetics provides readers with a fascinating investigation of the interplay between science and literature in the Victorian era.”—SEED Magazine

“...[A]n extraordinary reconsideration of Victorian novels, plays, and poems pierced by time’s arrow ThermoPoetics creates a new kind of law, one that recognizes that science and art are not two separate systems, but instead that the rules that govern both fiction and physics are borne out of the same world...”—Michelle Legro, Brain Pickings

“Gold’s lively yet subtle study explores the ‘thermodynamic sensibility’ in texts such as Tennyson's In Memoriam (“a brilliant work of thermodynamics”) and Bleak House (“Dickens was a damn good engineer”), as well as the role of “entropic individuals” in decadent novels at the end of the century, such as Dracula. ThermoPoetics is an excellent example of current research that emphasises the common concerns of literature and science: one rather than two cultures.”—PD Smith, The Guardian

“[Gold] draws attention to the frequent use of analogy, metaphor and personification in scientific writing that sought to establish the principles of thermodynamic thought… The most endearing aspect of this innovative and accessible book is its unrelenting desire to emphasize the ‘literary pleasure’ that might be derived from an energetic ‘reading practice’.” —The Times Literary Supplement


ThermoPoetics bridges the literary and the scientific in a way that is lively, original, and poignant. Barri Gold's writing has the flair, personality, and humor that will attract and please many readers. Through her vivid readings, Victorian literature opens intriguing new perspectives on the poetic ramifications of science.”
Peter Pesic, St. John's College, Santa Fe, author of Sky in a Bottle

“Tennyson was a genius of thermodynamics, Maxwell, undoubtedly a poet. The tensions between science and literature have never been as great as they were in the Victorian era, and Barri Gold explores how these two fields revealed themselves, informing striking revelations in the other. This book beautifully mends the tear between science and metaphor.”
Eric Wilson, Department of English, Wake Forest University

“This forthright, personal, and well-informed study will demonstrate to many new readers the cultural importance of Victorian physics.”
Dame Gillian Beer, King Edward VII Professor of English Literature, and President of Clare Hall, Cambridge University