John Pringle Nichol and the Influence of Astronomy on George Eliot's First Novel
CitationWheeler, Aurora. 2019. John Pringle Nichol and the Influence of Astronomy on George Eliot's First Novel. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
Abstract“Up to this point their orbits were individuals—without connection or unity.”
That statement appeared in John Pringle Nichol’s The Phenomena and Order of the Solar System (1842), a scientific text which so transfixed the English writer George Eliot, who at that time had yet to write fiction, that she exclaimed in a letter to a friend that she had been “in imagination winging my flight from system to system, from universe to universe.” This paper examines the influence of science on Eliot’s first novel, specifically through two texts by the Scottish astronomer John Pringle Nichol. While other scholars have examined Eliot’s works through the lens of science, those have largely addressed the influence of works by Auguste Comte, G.H. Lewes, and Charles Darwin. This paper focuses on the pre-Darwinian works of Nichol, utilizing Eliot’s letters and journals to analyze her first novel, Adam Bede, through a lens based on Nichol’s first two astronomical texts. This analysis provides an examination of Eliot as observational narrator, the role of observation between characters, and the impact of invisible yet significant connections between characters, all of which serves to underscore Eliot’s role as realist and truth-teller.
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