19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, No 10 (2010)

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Dickens in the City: Science, Technology, Ecology in the Novels of Charles Dickens

John Parham


This article addresses the obscuring of Dickens’s interest in contemporary science. It argues that Dickens was acquainted with those scientific developments – evolutionary biology and energy physics – that would converge, in the nineteenth century, to form ecological science. Arguing that Dickens then applied his interest in science, and his own conception of a ‘poetic science’ towards an analysis of society, the paper considers his examination of industry, technology, and the physical shape that these bequeathed to the Victorian city in the light of contemporary social ecology. The article ends by arguing that Dickens’s double-edged understanding of technology and the city allows us to understand his writing as an example of what John Clark has called a ‘social ecology of the imagination’ and, more generally, of a reconstructive quality shared with social ecology.

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