"Sympathy for Science": Practitioners, Prose, and Public Feeling in Late Victorian Science

Musser, Lara, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Tucker, Herbert, Department of English, University of Virginia

This dissertation treats Victorian practitioners of science and two things they wanted for the public: to learn things, and to feel things. "Sympathy for Science" takes three generic approaches to the rhetorical project of “sympathy” as it was employed in the writing of late-Victorian scientific practitioners. Taking a concept typically associated with the fictional and moral imagination, I attend to how “sympathy” played a guiding rhetorical and pedagogical role both in the quest to engage the Victorian public imagination in, and to give voice to the phenomenological experience of, what John Tyndall called having “sympathy for science” in a naturalistic universe. My chapters address a number of sympathetic modes and manifestations: the first addresses the paradigmatic negotiation between scientific naturalism and Romantic supernaturalism in Nature magazine (1869-1875) and how it sought to model the ideal scientific persona, while the second approaches the scientific lecture as a site of case-based sympathy, where disparate scientific objects were brought into human fellowship in a “community of matter.” The final chapter takes T. H. Huxley as a single-author case study, arguing that Huxley constructed a physiological sympathetic rhetoric the automatic quality of which could accommodate the pressures of Darwinian doubt.
“Sympathy for Science” aims to contribute to burgeoning scholarly attention to scientific prose as a literary mode, and argue how sympathetic rhetorics might have fortified or re-engineered a novel sense of natural unity in a post-Darwinian paradigm. In re-adjusting the realm and terms of “sympathy,” writing practitioners may not have been able to re-weave the natural theological rainbow, but in its place they were able to suggest more flexible imaginative pathways towards feeling connected with the physical universe.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
sympathy, Victorian science, popularizing
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