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Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creationby James A. Secord
Synopses & Reviews
Fiction or philosophy, profound knowledge or shocking heresy? When Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation was published anonymously in 1844, it sparked one of the greatest sensations of the Victorian era. More than a hundred thousand readers were spellbound by its startling vision—an account of the world that extended from the formation of the solar system to the spiritual destiny of humanity. As gripping as a popular novel, Vestiges combined all the current scientific theories in fields ranging from astronomy and geology to psychology and economics. The book was banned, it was damned, it was hailed as the gospel for a new age. This is where our own public controversies about evolution began.
In a pioneering cultural history, James A. Secord uses the story of Vestiges to create a panoramic portrait of life in the early industrial era from the perspective of its readers. We join apprentices in a factory town as they debate the consequences of an evolutionary ancestry. We listen as Prince Albert reads aloud to Queen Victoria from a book that preachers denounced as blasphemy vomited from the mouth of Satan. And we watch as Charles Darwin turns its pages in the flea-ridden British Museum library, fearful for the fate of his own unpublished theory of evolution. Using secret letters, Secord reveals how Vestiges was written and how the anonymity of its author was maintained for forty years. He also takes us behind the scenes to a bustling world of publishers, printers, and booksellers to show how the furor over the book reflected the emerging industrial economy of print.
Beautifully written and based on painstaking research, Victorian Sensation offers a new approach to literary history, the history of reading, and the history of science. Profusely illustrated and full of fascinating stories, it is the most comprehensive account of the making and reception of a book (other than the Bible) ever attempted.
"Marvelous. . . . An impressive, timely, and important book. Secord crosses disciplines with the effortless elegance of an intellectual athlete." Spectator>
When "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation was published anonymously in 1844, it sparked one of the greatest sensations of the Victorian era, startling, scandalizing, or invigorating more than one hundred thousand readers with its vision of the solar system's formation and humanity's evolution. In this pioneering history, James A. Secord uses the story of Vestiges to create a panoramic portrait of life in the early industrial era, uncovering the bustling world of publishers, printers, and booksellers that made such upheaval possible and revealing the secrets of the text's authorship.
About the Author
James A. Secord is Reader in the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. He is author of, among others, Controversy in Victorian Geology, editor of the Chicago edition of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation and Other Evolutionary Writings, and coeditor of Cultures of Natural History.
Table of Contents
List of IllustrationsAcknowledgmentsList of AbbreviationsPrologue: Devils or AngelsPart One: Romances of Creation1. A Great Sensation2. Steam Reading3. Evolution for the People4. Marketing SpeculationPart Two: Geographies of Reading5. Conversations on Creation6. Science in the City7. Church in Danger8. The Holy WarPart Three: Spiritual Journeys9. Sinners and Saints10. Self-Development11. AnonymityPart Four: Futures of Science12. The Paradoxes of Gentility13. Grub Street Science14. Mammon and the New ReformationEpilogue: Lifting the VeilReferencesIllustration CreditsIndex
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