Uncertain Chances: Science, Skepticism, and Belief in Nineteenth-Century American Literature

Paperback | May 8, 2013

byMaurice S. Lee

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The role of chance changed in the nineteenth century, and American literature changed with it. Long dismissed as a nominal concept, chance was increasingly treated as a natural force to be managed but never mastered. New theories of chance sparked religious and philosophical controversieswhile revolutionizing the sciences as probabilistic methods spread from mathematics, economics, and sociology to physics and evolutionary biology. Chance also became more visible in everyday life, as Americans attempted to control its power through weather forecasting, insurance policies, militarystrategy, and financial dealings.Uncertain Chances shows how the rise of chance shaped the way nineteenth-century American writers confronted questions of doubt and belief. Poe's detective fiction critiques probabilistic methods; Melville's works struggle to vindicate moral action under conditions of chance; Douglass and otherAfrican American authors fight against statistical racism; Thoreau learns to appreciate the play between nature's randomness and order; and Dickinson works faithfully to render poetically the affective experience of chance-surprise. These and other nineteenth-century writers dramatize theinescapable dangers and wonderful possibilities of chance. Their writings even help to navigate extremes that remain with us today - fundamentalism and relativism, determinism and chaos, terrorism and risk-management, the rational confidence of the Enlightenment and the debilitating doubts ofmodernity.

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The role of chance changed in the nineteenth century, and American literature changed with it. Long dismissed as a nominal concept, chance was increasingly treated as a natural force to be managed but never mastered. New theories of chance sparked religious and philosophical controversieswhile revolutionizing the sciences as probabilis...

Maurice S. Lee is Associate Professor of English at Boston University. He is the author of Slavery, Philosophy, and American Literature, 1830-1860 and the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Frederick Douglass.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:256 pages, 9.21 × 6.14 × 0.68 inPublished:May 8, 2013Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199985812

ISBN - 13:9780199985814

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Table of Contents

Introduction1. Probably Poe2. Moby-Dick and the Opposite of Providence3. Doubting If Doubt Itself Be Doubting: After Moby-Dick4. Douglass' Long Run5. Roughly ThoreauCoda: Lost Causes and the Civil War