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Coastal Cultures of the Long Nineteenth Century$
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Matthew Ingleby and Matthew P. M. Kerr

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474435734

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474435734.001.0001

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Marine Bizarrerie: The Imaginative Biology of the Underwater Frontier

Marine Bizarrerie: The Imaginative Biology of the Underwater Frontier

(p.169) Chapter 9 Marine Bizarrerie: The Imaginative Biology of the Underwater Frontier
Coastal Cultures of the Long Nineteenth Century

Margaret Cohen

Edinburgh University Press

The great variety and radical metamorphoses of aquatic life forms attracted huge fascination during the nineteenth century, in part because they defied familiar paradigms of development and progress. In this chapter, Cohen explores how writers were inspired by such marine life-cycles to try out experiments in narrative prose, focusing in particular on the influence of marine variety on the depiction of psychological experience. Starting with Charles Kingsley’s Glaucus (1855), Cohen argues that Kingsley uses the life forms of the underwater kingdom to re-energise the poetic figure of metamorphosis, which, in his treatment, depends more upon natural science than myth. Cohen then shows how Kingsley translates marine metamorphosis into narrative experiment in The Water-Babies (1862), and creates an account of psychological experience that is more hallucinatory and phantasmagorical than developmental. Cohen finally suggests that marine metamorphosis has a similar impact on other authors, including Gustave Flaubert, Victor Hugo and Jules Michelet, all of whom stress the disturbing and disruptive possibilities of a psychological prose inspired by aquatic biology.

Keywords:   Marine biology, Victorian science, Charles Kingsley, The Water-Babies, Gustave Flaubert, Jules Michelet, Victor Hugo

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