The Starry Sky Within: Astronomy and the Reach of the Mind in Victorian Literature

Hardcover | March 12, 2014

byAnna Henchman

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Tracing unexplored connections between nineteenth-century astronomy and literature, The Starry Sky Within offers a new understanding of literary point of view as essentially multiple, mobile, and comparative. Nineteenth-century astronomy revealed a cosmos of celestial systems in constantmotion. Stars, comets, planets, and moons coursed through space in complex and changing relation. As the skies were in motion, so too was the human subject. Astronomers showed that human beings never perceive the world from a stable position. The mobility of our bodies in space and the verystructure of stereoscopic vision mean that point of view is neither singular nor stable. We always see the world as amalgam of fractured perspectives. In this innovative study, Henchman shows that the reconceptualization of the skies gave poets and novelists new spaces in which to indulge their longing to escape the limitations of individual perspective. She links astronomy and optics to the form of the multiplot novel, with its many centers ofconsciousness, complex systems of relation, and crisscrossing points of view. Accounts of a world and a subject both in relative motion shaped the form of grand-scale narratives such as Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Bleak House, and Daniel Deronda. De Quincey, Tennyson, and Eliot befriended leadingastronomers and visited observatories, while Hardy learned about astronomy from the vast popular literature of the day. These writers use cosmic distances to dislodge their readers from the earth, setting human perception against views from high above and then telescoping back to earth again. Whatresults is a new perception of the mobility of point of view in both literature and science.

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Tracing unexplored connections between nineteenth-century astronomy and literature, The Starry Sky Within offers a new understanding of literary point of view as essentially multiple, mobile, and comparative. Nineteenth-century astronomy revealed a cosmos of celestial systems in constantmotion. Stars, comets, planets, and moons coursed...

Anna Henchman is Assistant Professor of English at Boston University. She was educated at Yale and Harvard, and before joining BU's English department, was a Junior Fellow at Harvard's Society of Fellows. She focuses on nineteenth-century British literature, science, and the mind. Her next book project, tentatively titled 'The Inner Li...
Format:HardcoverDimensions:296 pages, 9.21 × 6.14 × 0.1 inPublished:March 12, 2014Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199686963

ISBN - 13:9780199686964

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Table of Contents

IntroductionPart One: Observers in Motion1. Astronomy, Optics, and Point of View2. Thomas De Quincey's Disoriented Universe3. Grief in Motion: Parallax and Orbing in TennysonPart Two: Astronomy and the Multiplot NovelIntroduction: Novels as Celestial Systems4. Hardy's Stargazers and the Astronomy of Other Minds5. George Eliot and the Sweep of the Senses6. Narratives on a Grand Scale: Astronomy and Narrative SpaceConclusionBibliography