ENG32110 Literature and Science

Academic Year 2023/2024

The nineteenth century witnessed dramatic developments in all areas of the sciences. Debates about new sciences were integral to literary culture. The impact of new understandings of psychology, geology, biology, physiology, physics on the environment; on the body; on religious belief; and on the sense of selfhood for example is a key feature of writing from this period. This interdisciplinary course will examine how scientific issues were registered and interrogated across a range of literary genres (essays; novels; short stories; poems) from the 1830s-1890s. We will also consider the use of literary devices in scientific texts and the cross-influences of scientific and literary interests. Areas of interest that will shape our discussions include: evolution and degeneration; theories of race, gender, sexuality and class; interactions of the mind and body; new understandings of illness and disease. Writers studied include George Eliot, Robert Browning, Charles Darwin, John Ruskin, Lewis Carroll, H.G. Wells and Alfred Tennyson.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

• Identify the role of key scientific debates in the works of nineteenth-century writers
• Argue with critical awareness about cultural, social, historical and literary significance of such debates for the nineteenth century and for today
• Demonstrate understanding of nineteenth-century literary and scientific culture and its role in shaping our world
• Analyse literary strategies in scientific texts from the period in an informed way
• Demonstrate analytical, critical and writing skills including the ability to produce an essay demonstrating knowledge of key points noted above.

Indicative Module Content:

SEMINAR 1: Introduction Literature and Science? Literature or Science?: Our Terms of Debate

Core Texts: ‘Prologue’ from Laura Otis, ed. Literature and Science in the 19th Century, pp
3-8 with theoretical material from George Levine, ‘One Culture’ and Thomas Kuhn, from The Stucture of Scientific Revolutions

SEMINAR 2: Facts and Faith: Deep Time and Planetary Consciousness
Core Texts: Charles Lyell, from Principles of Geology in Otis, ed., Literature 'and Science, pp246-252; Gosse, from Father and Son (in Norton); George Levine, ‘One Culture’

SEMINAR 3: God and Nature still at strife?: Death, Mourning and The Body
Core Text: Tennyson, from In Memoriam (in Norton)

SEMINAR 4: Individual and the Species: Evolution and The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Core Texts: Darwin from Origin of Species and Descent of Man (in Norton) and Gillian Beer, from Darwin’s Plots

SEMINAR 5: Man the Animal: The Body in the World
Core Texts: Browning, ‘Caliban upon Setebos’ (in Norton)

SEMINAR 6: Logic, Origins and Ends: Our Need for Nonsense
Core Texts: Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
and Edward Lear, from A book of Nonsense (1861) at http://www.nonsenselit.org/Lear/BoN/index.html

SEMINAR 7: Ways of Seeing: Perception and Fact
Core Texts: George Eliot, The Lifted Veil; Mesmerism and Magnetism section of Otis, Literature and Science, pp391-110; Armstrong ‘The microscope: mediations of the sub-visible world’

SEMINAR 8: Bodies, Minds, Desire and Disease: The role of the Gothic
Core Text: ‘Carmilla’ from Sheridan Le Fanu, In a Glass Darkly; Henry Maudsley, from Body and Mind in Otis, pp364-69; Frances Power Cobbe, ‘Unconscious Cerebration’ in Otis, pp424-427.

SEMINAR 9: New Worlds: Race and Experiment
Core Texts H.G. Wells, The Island of Dr Moreau (1896); Section on Otis on Race.

SEMINAR 10: Conclusion and review: Enviornmental Consciousness
Core Texts: Ruskin, ‘Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century’ (in Norton)

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning


Seminar (or Webinar)




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Seminar style teaching based on preparation of readings in advance of class, ciruclation of study questions to guide reading, handouts to support reading so that our seminar is a place of focused discussion, exploration and development of ideas. Recorded material will be available online for anyone with access issues. We wil also have live (synchonous) classes each week to facilitate discussion and co-learning

Key learning and teaching components include:
Group discussions
Guided disucssions
Interrogation of critical positions based on weekly handouts or critical text (Provided in advance of class on Brightspace)
Generation of study quesions (Provided in advance of Each class on Brightspace)
Formative Learning via 3 short entries in Portfolio
End of term research essay
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade In Module Component Repeat Offered
Continuous Assessment: Three short response pieces to assigned work over the course of the term
One page essay plan due week 9
All material is submitted on Brightspace
Varies over the Trimester n/a Graded No


Essay: 3000-4000 word essay on the based on the primary course material that will build on the continuous assessment, study questions and critical readings and discussions we cover over weeks 1-10. Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No



Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Spring No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Self-assessment activities

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Our class discussions constitute a live feedback platform: we will refine our own thinking and approach to critical questions by hearing andattending to the views of others Online feedback on your reflective journal pieces will be provided regularly throughout the term so that each written piece you compelete will help you to refine your writing skilss and identify of strenght and areas that need development One-on-one meetings in week 12 will provide feedback on your essay plan to help you to flourish in your final submission.

Primary Texts (subject to minor change)
(Note: Most of these texts are available online. See http://www.gutenberg.org. Links available on Brightspace
 George Eliot, The Lifted Veil (1859)
 Robert Browning, ‘Caliban upon Setebos’ (1864)
 Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
 Edward Lear, from 'Book of Nonsense' (1871)
 Sheridan Le Fanu, ‘Carmilla’ from In a Glass Darkly (1872)
 H.G. Wells, The Island of Dr Moreau (1896)
 Extracts from Laura Otis, ed. Literature and Science in the Nineteenth Century, An Anthology (2002)
 Extracts from the following:
• Charles Darwin, from The Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871)
• Alfred Lord Tennyson, from In Memoriam (1833-50)
• John Ruskin, ‘The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century (1884)
• Edward Gosse, from Father and Son (1907)

Theoretical Readings by: Isobel Armstrong, Gillian Beer, Steven Conor, George Levin, Thomas Kuhn and others on Brightspace
Name Role
Professor Nicholas Daly Lecturer / Co-Lecturer