Barri J. Gold – ThermoPoetics: Energy in Victorian Literature and Science

Barri J. Gold

The MIT Press, ISBN-13: 978-0262013727, 2010, English, U.S.A.
There’s an ethereal legacy between the nineteenth century (most of it was the so called Victorian era), science and technological innovation and the current digital age, almost two centuries after. Beyond recognizing the ancestors of technologies (the telegraph as the “Victorian Internet”) and the subcultures producing fascinating atypical machines and settings (the steampunk movement), there’s probably some kind of thrill-sharing between these two historical moments, involving living in quickly changing and dangerous times. ThermoPoetics is a book focused on a specific relationship: the tensions between science and literature when both were facing major changes in Britain. Physics was tremendously reinforced by the new law of thermodynamics and attendant cultural impacts: it was closely followed by a number of poets, while a few scientists were dealing with creative language to talk about their new discoveries. It’s fascinating to read the great poetry written by Maxwell about force, and in turn to discover “Bleak House” a novel by Charles Dickens which he treats as a series of engines. Other famous writers are mentioned in this painstaking research: Alfred Tennyson, Herbert Spencer, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde, and their contributions are genuinely impressive. Scientific literature and literary science are here interwoven in a way that is never boring, but mutually stimulating. Maybe in a couple of centuries (or less), somebody else will connect blogging writing styles with global warming, in another astonishing piece of research.