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Academic & Professional Books  History & Other Humanities  History of Science & Nature

Natural Magic Emily Dickinson, Charles Darwin, and the Dawn of Modern Science

By: Renée Bergland(Author)
440 pages, 59 b/w illustrations
Natural Magic
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  • Natural Magic ISBN: 9780691235288 Hardback Jun 2024 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
Price: £27.99
About this book Contents Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

A captivating portrait of the poet and the scientist who shared an enchanted view of nature.

Emily Dickinson and Charles Darwin were born at a time when the science of studying the natural world was known as natural philosophy, a pastime for poets, priests, and schoolgirls. The world began to change in the 1830s, while Darwin was exploring the Pacific aboard the Beagle and Dickinson was a student in Amherst, Massachusetts. Poetry and science started to grow apart, and modern thinkers challenged the old orthodoxies, offering thrilling new perspectives that suddenly felt radical – and too dangerous for women.

Natural Magic intertwines the stories of these two luminary nineteenth-century minds whose thoughts and writings captured the awesome possibilities of the new sciences and at the same time strove to preserve the magic of nature. Just as Darwin's work was informed by his roots in natural philosophy and his belief in the interconnectedness of all life, Dickinson's poetry was shaped by her education in botany, astronomy, and chemistry, and by her fascination with the enchanting possibilities of Darwinian science. Casting their two very different careers in an entirely fresh light, Renée Bergland brings to life a time when ideas about science were rapidly evolving, and reshaped by poets, scientists, philosophers, and theologians alike. She paints a colourful portrait of a remarkable century that transformed how we see the natural world.

Illuminating and insightful, Natural Magic explores how Dickinson and Darwin refused to accept the separation of art and science. Today, more than ever, we need to reclaim their shared sense of ecological wonder.


Preface: An Orchis’ Heart
Introduction: An Enchanted World
Chapter 1 Darwin and Dickinson, Childhood Portraits
Chapter 2 Darwin the Naturalist Shropshire, Edinburgh, Cambridge, 1809–1831; Darwin, to Age 22
Chapter 3 Nature’s People: Scientific Amherst Amherst, 1830–1836; Dickinson, to Age 6
Chapter 4 Juggler, Geologist, Dark Horse Aboard the Beagle, 1832–1836; Darwin, Age 23–27
Chapter 5 Dickinson the Bold Amherst, 1836–1847; Dickinson, Age 6–16
Chapter 6 The Leading Scientific Men London and Amherst, 1836–1845
Chapter 7 Religion of Geology South Hadley, Amherst, 1847–1851; Dickinson, Age 16–20
Chapter 8 A Slow-Sailing Ship Downe, Great Malvern, 1842–1851; Darwin, Age 33–42
Chapter 9 Excitement in the Village Amherst, 1851–1857; Dickinson, Age 20–26
Chapter 10 On the Origin of Species Downe; 1858–1860; Darwin; Age 49–51
Chapter 11 If You Saw a Bullet Amherst, 1857–1861; Dickinson, Age 26–31
Chapter 12 Wild Experiment Downe and Amherst, 1860–1862
Chapter 13 Melody or Witchcraft? Amherst, 1862–1866
Chapter 14 Mutual Friends Downe and Amherst, 1866–1882
Chapter 15 Perfectly Disinterested: Darwin’s Last Days
Chapter 16 Nature Is a Haunted House: Dickinson Faces Death
Afterword: Hope Is a Strange Invention Darwin and Dickinson in the Twenty-First Century

Bibliographic Note

Customer Reviews


Renée Bergland is a professor of literature and creative writing at Simmons University. She is the author of Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of Science: An Astronomer among the American Romantics and The National Uncanny: Indian Ghosts and American Subjects.

By: Renée Bergland(Author)
440 pages, 59 b/w illustrations
Media reviews

"In this adventurous study, literature professor Bergland pairs Dickinson and Darwin to chart a profound transitional stage in Western intellectual history: a shift toward the separation of scientific and artistic perspectives [...] An illuminating juxtaposition of two 19th-century trailblazers and their relevance to scientific history."
Kirkus Reviews

"In this innovative study, Renée Bergland juxtaposes two passionate observers of the natural world to explore the poetry in Darwin and the science in Dickinson. Though they were separated by an ocean – at once real and metaphorical – she nevertheless finds deep unities in their understanding of the changing earth and its organisms. To them the world appeared to be alive with relationships – living relationships that provide the magic of her title."
– Janet Browne, author of Charles Darwin: A Biography

"If, like me, you would invite Emily Dickinson and Charles Darwin to share an imagined soirée, fantasize no more. Renée Bergland brings together their life stories and their complementary artistic and intellectual pursuits in her well-researched, beautifully written book. It is a robust conversation, and pure enchantment."
– Marta McDowell, author of Emily Dickinson's Gardening Life

"A riveting narrative that crisscrosses the Atlantic, Natural Magic tells a story of two figures driven by their wonder at the intricate delicacies of the natural world. It shows Dickinson and Darwin enthralled by surprising proximities that the study of nature lays bare. At its heart, Natural Magic reillumines a time in which scientific thinking is still linked to mystery and a marvelous connectedness."
– Anna Henchman, author of The Starry Sky Within

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