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The first book-length critical study of the interaction of European fiction with natural history from the late Enlightenment through the mid-Victorian era, when the ascendancy of novelistic realism coincided with the rise of evolutionary biology.

Duncan, Ian

Human Forms

The Novel in the Age of Evolution


    57,95 € / $65.75 / £51.00*

    eBook (PDF)
    Publication Date:
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    September 2019
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    Aims and Scope

    A major rethinking of the European novel and its relationship to early evolutionary science

    The 120 years between Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (1749) and George Eliot's Middlemarch (1871) marked both the rise of the novel and the shift from the presumption of a stable, universal human nature to one that changes over time. In Human Forms, Ian Duncan reorients our understanding of the novel's formation during its cultural ascendancy, arguing that fiction produced new knowledge in a period characterized by the interplay between literary and scientific discourses—even as the two were separating into distinct domains.

    Duncan focuses on several crisis points: the contentious formation of a natural history of the human species in the late Enlightenment; the emergence of new genres such as the Romantic bildungsroman; historical novels by Walter Scott and Victor Hugo that confronted the dissolution of the idea of a fixed human nature; Charles Dickens's transformist aesthetic and its challenge to Victorian realism; and George Eliot's reckoning with the nineteenth-century revolutions in the human and natural sciences. Modeling the modern scientific conception of a developmental human nature, the novel became a major experimental instrument for managing the new set of divisions—between nature and history, individual and species, human and biological life—that replaced the ancient schism between animal body and immortal soul.

    The first book to explore the interaction of European fiction with "the natural history of man" from the late Enlightenment through the mid-Victorian era, Human Forms sets a new standard for work on natural history and the novel.


    208 pages
    General/trade;Professional and scholarly;College/higher education;

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    Ian Duncan is professor and Florence Green Bixby Chair in English at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include Scott's Shadow: The Novel in Romantic Edinburgh (Princeton).


    "Drawing masterfully on philosophical, scientific, aesthetic, and political discourses on human nature since the Enlightenment, Human Forms reshapes our understanding of the purpose and limit of fictional realism, along with those of its coemergent alternatives. We will be profiting from this book for a long time to come. A tremendous achievement."—James Buzard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    "This is a very important and original contribution to our understanding of the nineteenth-century novel—indeed, of the history of the novel in general. I can think of no study that has done more to illuminate the genre's development by bringing the history of science to bear on it."—Simon During, University of Melbourne

    "Human Forms is a virtuoso performance on how, over the course of a century, two very different ways of thinking about the gap between the history of man as an individual and the history of the human species transformed each other. Beautifully written and impeccably researched, this book belongs in the mainstream of novel studies."—Nancy Armstrong, Duke University

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