Romantic Rocks, Aesthetic Geology

Overview

Why are rocks and landforms so prominent in British Romantic poetry? Why, for example, does Shelley choose a mountain as the locus of a "voice . . . to repeal / large codes of fraud and woe"? Why does a cliff, in the boat-stealing episode of Wordsworth's Prelude, chastise the young thief? Why is petrifaction, or "stonifying," in Blake's coinage, the ultimate figure of dehumanization?

Noah Heringman maintains that British literary culture was fundamentally shaped by many of the ...

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Overview

Why are rocks and landforms so prominent in British Romantic poetry? Why, for example, does Shelley choose a mountain as the locus of a "voice . . . to repeal / large codes of fraud and woe"? Why does a cliff, in the boat-stealing episode of Wordsworth's Prelude, chastise the young thief? Why is petrifaction, or "stonifying," in Blake's coinage, the ultimate figure of dehumanization?

Noah Heringman maintains that British literary culture was fundamentally shaped by many of the same forces that created geology as a science in the period 1770–1820. He shows that landscape aesthetics—the verbal and social idiom of landscape gardening, natural history, the scenic tour, and other forms of outdoor "improvement"—provided a shared vernacular for geology and Romanticism in their formative stages.

Romantic Rocks, Aesthetic Geology reexamines a wide range of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century poetry to discover its relationship to a broad cultural consensus on the nature and value of rocks and landforms. Equally interested in the initial surge of curiosity about the earth and the ensuing process of specialization, Heringman contributes to a new understanding of literature as a key forum for the modern reorganization of knowledge.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A fascinating study of the rocks of Romanticism, the geology of German and British thinking that flowed out from the field work of early hammer-toting scientists into the libraries, the natural history museums, and the scientific 'cabinets' of Europe. . . . Noah Heringman has written an important work of literary criticism that does justice to the term 'interdisciplinary' by uniting literary scholarship with the wider sweep of scientific history. . . . It should be required reading for all professors and graduate students of Romanticism, in the widest sense of that word."—Ashton Nichols, Nineteenth-Century Contexts, December 2006

"In Romantic Rocks, Aesthetic Geology, Noah Heringman presents superb evidence that Romantic poets made intriguing use of geological distinctions. His point is not that these poets echo or allude to geological terms, but that their invocation of geological ideas belongs to the deep structure of poetic arguments. For instance, he shows decisively how visual, dramatic, and geological notices of volcanic eruption were parallel in Romantic culture for revolution from below. With a brilliant array of evidence, Heringman shows how natural history and geology operated in the Romantic public sphere."—Theresa M. Kelley, University of Wisconsin–Madison

"Noah Heringman's writing is unfailingly graceful, pertinent, and well documented. He ranges easily among poets such as William Blake, John Keats, Percy Shelley, and William Wordsworth, but also among scientists and geologists, including Erasmus Darwin, Humphry Davy, James Hutton, and John Whitehurst."—Stuart Peterfreund, Northeastern University

"Romantic Rocks, Aesthetic Geology is absorbing, eye-opening, and essential reading for anyone working in Romanticism and its relation to other disciplines. It is a rich exploration of Romanticism and natural history and exemplary as a method of treating the dialectical relation of literature and science with nuance and gratifying complexity. It's solidly grounded in history of science and cultural history, yet poses the question of aesthetics and literary form acutely as well. The book's supple movements among various languages of knowledge make it a true model of cross-disciplinary critical writing and historical argument."—Jon Klancher, Carnegie Mellon University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801476266
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2010
  • Pages: 326
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Preface xiii

Acknowledgments xvii

Abbreviations and Bibliographical Note xix

Introduction: Aesthetic Materialism and the Culture of Landscape 1

1 A Genealogy of the "Huge Stone" in Wordsworth's "Resolution and Independence" 30

2 Geological Otherness; or, Rude Rocks and the Aesthetics of Formlessness 54

3 Blake, Geology, and Primordial Substance 94

Interchapter: Literary Landscapes and Mineral Resources 138

4 The Rock Record, Mineral Wealth, and the Substance of History 161

5 Aesthetic Objects and Cultural Practices in Erasmus Darwin's Geology 191

6 Wonders of the Peak 228

Conclusion: Aesthetic Geology and Critical Discourse 267

Works Cited 281

Index 297

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