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Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter [Paperback]

Gillian Beer

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Book Description

March 1 1999
Science always raises more questions than it can contain. These acclaimed and challenging essays explore how ideas are transformed as they come under the stress of unforeseen readers. Using a wealth of material from diverse nineteenth- and twentieth-century writing, Gillian Beer tracks encounters between science, literature, and other forms of emotional experience. Her analysis discloses issues of chance, gender, nation, and desire. A substantial group of essays centres on Darwin and the incentives of his thinking from language theory to his encounters with Fuegians. Other essays include Hardy, Helmholtz, Hopkins, Clerk Maxwell, and Woolf. The collection throws a different light on Victorian experience and the rise of modernism, and engages with current controversies about the place of science in culture.

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Beer's prose both entices and, one might say in a Beerism, disequilibrates: it makes it impossible for readers to relax. Her words are never casual and serve not only the obvious utilitarian effect of getting it right but of getting it right in ways we never would have thought of on our own; ... The seductive strenuousness of Beer's prose derives from her sense of the relentless fluidity of language and experience, ... Words come alive, both in her criticism and in the subjects of her study, ... it is important to recognize that her true power and authority as critic reside not in theorizing - a practice at which she is nevertheless quite impressive - but in the precision, scholarly authority, and brillance of her engagement with words, texts, history, and ideas./George Levine/Jnl of English and Germanic Philology, July 1998

`Gillian Beer ... is one of the most eloquent and learned Victorianists currently writing, and the strengths of this collection of essays on science and literature are obvious: a range of reference from Victorian biology, anthropology, physics, poetry, and novels, and Beer's own language informed by her studies - a vocabulary so extensive and precise and a turn of phrase so distinctive that early on one sits up, aware that this is not the voice of your typical literary critic. And there is a maturity of thesis, and independence of mind that again mark Beer as one of the preeminent scholars in the field, whose particular engagement with history of science, long a Cambridge speciality, has been enriched by developments in cultural anthropology and postcolonial studies.' Regenia Gagnier, Victorian Studies, Autumn 1997

`admirably written essays... First published in 1996, it has now deservedly appeared as a paperback. ... the essays fuse together well and express a consistent intellectual stance. ... Gillian Beer is an observant and most intelligent guide ... Not only does she write well, but she also skilfuly avoids giving offence to activists in minority groups ... The secret of the book's success is in the writing, lucid, beguiling and so cleverly inoffensive.' Desmond King-Hele

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