Chaos and Cosmos

Literary Roots of Modern Ecology in the British Nineteenth Century

By (author) Heidi C. M. Scott

Hardback - £51.95

Publication date:

30 July 2014

Length of book:

224 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271063836

In Chaos and Cosmos, Heidi Scott integrates literary readings with contemporary ecological methods to investigate two essential and contrasting paradigms of nature that scientific ecology continues to debate: chaos and balance. Ecological literature of the Romantic and Victorian eras uses environmental chaos and the figure of the balanced microcosm as tropes essential to understanding natural patterns, and these eras were the first to reflect upon the ecological degradations of the Industrial Revolution. Chaos and Cosmos contends that the seed of imagination that would enable a scientist to study a lake as a microcosmic world at the formal, empirical level was sown by Romantic and Victorian poets who consciously drew a sphere around their perceptions in order to make sense of spots of time and place amid the globalizing modern world.

This study’s interest goes beyond likening literary tropes to scientific aesthetics; it aims to theorize the interdisciplinary history of the concepts that underlie our scientific understanding of modern nature. Paradigmatic ecological ideas such as ecosystems, succession dynamics, punctuated equilibrium, and climate change are shown to have a literary foundation that preceded their status as theories in science. This book represents an elevation of the prospects of ecocriticism toward fully developed interdisciplinary potentials of literary ecology.

“Heidi Scott’s book belongs to the ‘new wave’ of ecocriticismscientifically literate and fully engaged with the urgent issues of environmental deterioration, global warming, and sustainability. She connects the new scientific zeitgeist of complexity and chaos with the poetics of ecology, showing how, intriguingly, the poets got there first. More importantly, the sciences and humanities share a single vision here, as they must if the planet is to be saved.”

—Gillen D'Arcy Wood, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign