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Title:Natural history and British women writers, 1730-1830
Author(s):Bailes, Melissa
Director of Research:Underwood, Ted
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Underwood, Ted
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Markley, Robert; Murison, Justine; Wood, Gillen
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):natural history
British women writers
history of science
British literature
eighteenth century
Abstract:The late eighteenth-century poet, Maria Riddell, used zoological hybridity as a racial metaphor for West Indian colonies’ potential to foster “British” national identity, with its mixed heritage and allegiances. This is the subject of my dissertation’s second chapter, and what it shows is that, at a time when women writers did not possess political power, some, such as Riddell, exerted cultural authority through the natural sciences. Natural history (comprising the fields of botany, zoology, and geology) dramatically rose in popularity in the latter half of the eighteenth century. During this time, naturalists drew analogies between natural and social orders, arranging “classes” and “kingdoms” in ways that naturalized cultural and national hierarchies. My manuscript, Natural History and British Women Writers, 1730-1830, argues that women, including Eliza Haywood, Charlotte Smith, and Mary Shelley, often claimed scientific superiority to naturalists to destabilize seemingly fixed identities and revise not only biological but also social and literary taxonomies. For example, my third chapter explores Anna Seward’s development of a literary taxonomy that interrelates biological and poetic forms. Through this attention to women’s scientific literature, my study also casts new light on the period’s debates about literary originality, with important consequences for our understanding of writers such as Alexander Pope, Oliver Goldsmith, William Wordsworth, and Lord Byron.
Issue Date:2012-06-27
Rights Information:Copyright 2012 Melissa Bailes
Date Available in IDEALS:2012-06-27
Date Deposited:2012-05

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