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Victorian Natural History and the Discourses of Nature in Charles Kingsley's Glaucus

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image of Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology

This essay argues that Victorian natural history, as a form of knowledge more accessible in the culture than the increasingly professionalised languages of empirical science, deserves more prominence in accounts of the formation and transmission of ideas about nature's value and human beings' relationship with it in Victorian England. The essay examines the constitutive discourses of a particular and popular example of such writing: Charles Kingsley's Glaucus (1854-55). It analyses the claims made by the text for the morally improving nature of natural history and the discourse of chivalry appropriated to express that claim. It discusses aspects of the text's construction of the natural world in theological, political and aesthetic terms, and looks particularly at its deployment of imperial discourses in configuring the naturalist's relationship with nature. The essay sites Glaucus's attitude to the morality of specimen collecting within the wider context of moral debate in Victorian natural history and concludes with some reflections on natural history's place in relation to the values of professionalised empirical science in the culture.

Affiliations: 1: Department of English, Cheltenham and Gloucester University College, UK


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