Trollope and Science


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Trollope and Science

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Set 15, 2014, 12:25 pm

Unlike Dickens, Hardy, Eliot, and other major Victorian novelists, Trollope does not appear to engage with the new sciences (theory of evolution, entropy, new psychology etc), and there is very little written about his view of this.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Modificato: Set 15, 2014, 3:51 pm

I suppose the most likely reasons for not engaging with scientific subjects would be (a) that he simply wasn't interested, or (b) that he thought it wouldn't sell.

Dickens and Thackeray would be obvious examples of other writers who were more interested in social, political and financial subjects than in science, and they were also commercially successful. Possibly it's only in the imagination of people who teach courses on Victorian literature that all Victorians were obsessed with fossils and the crisis of faith...

Another thought might be that Trollope's mother was much criticised for writing about controversial subjects, which might have scared him off a bit.

Sorry, just noticed that you put Dickens as an example of a Victorian writer who did engage with science. I wouldn't have thought of him in that connection at all. He was interested in technology, of course, but I think only really as far as its social effects go (the factories in Hard Times, etc.), not in the way science challenges our ideas about the world, as George Eliot and Tennyson, Matthew Arnold and the rest were.

Set 15, 2014, 3:49 pm

>1 Wyrdskein: A previous topic,, suggests Trollope made at least one reference to a religion v. science debate:

Barchester Towers: "Are you a Whewellite, or a Brewsterite, or a t'othermite, Mrs. Bold?"

Modificato: Set 15, 2014, 3:52 pm

>3 Cynfelyn:
Come to think of it, there is also The fixed period, where we get euthanasia and steam-powered cricket!

Modificato: Set 16, 2014, 9:33 am

Hi. Thanks for your replies.
Books such as Darwin's Plots and Literary Darwinism make some good points about Dickens's engaging with scientific ideas, but do not mention Trollope. Of course he is mentioned when dealing with gender issues, class, and social reform, but the scientific and philosophical theory is always absent.
Maybe you are right thorold saying that he just chose not to include them - he wasn't interested; and his books definitely stand apart from the other big names of the time - he was unique in some ways.

I really enjoyed the Fixed Period, and it does cover one of the hot topics of the time - population control; which links back to Thomas Malthus (who influenced Darwin) - but it's quite a tenuous link. Interesting that it was published in 1881 and not again until 1984.

Thinking about it, I suppose he also takes part in the New Woman debate, which has a definite scientific side.

Good stuff people!

Set 16, 2014, 11:47 am

Yes. It would be interesting to know more about how well he got on with his mother. I imagine him finding her something of an embarassment if he was trying to follow a discreet, conservative career in the civil service and write books that appealled to middle-of-the-road middle-class readers, but maybe that's totally off the mark. I should probably read the biography of Mrs Trollope that I've had sitting on my shelf the last couple of years...

Modificato: Set 19, 2017, 4:36 pm

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