07 March 2019

The Scientist in Victorian Literature: Dean Winnstay, Naturalist (Alton Locke, 1850)

Trade paperback, 452 pages
Published 1983 (originally 1850)

Acquired January 2019
ead February 2019
Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: An Autobiography
by Charles Kingsley
'Mak a style for yoursel, laddie; ye're na mair Scots hind than ye are Lincolnshire laird: sae gang yer ain gate and leave them to gang theirs; and just mak a gran', brode, simple, Saxon style for yoursel.' (99)
Was Charles Kingsley a two-hit wonder? The more I read the more I wonder. The Water-Babies was good, and I appreciated Two Years Ago, but none of the other novels I've read by him have done much for me. Or anything really. There's fertile ground in Alton Locke, a first-person narrative of a cockney tailor's ascent to poetry and political revolution, but like Hypatia, so much of it is boring tedium where nothing happens.

He does meet a man of science, though, the Dean of a Cambridge college, who both wants to teach Locke science and to experiment on him scientifically. I like that he says, "the man of science finds every worm and beetle a microcosm in its way" (167)-- never was the project of the scientist in the scientist novel so clearly expressed; the man of science is a microcosm for science, and the novel is a microcosm of the universe. But though it might apply to scientist novels, Alton Locke is not one, and thus have little to recommend itself to me, and honestly, it has little going for it for others, too.

(I do like Kingsley's political stirrings, especially the Chartist Scot quoted above, but there's just so much other stuff that's just not interesting.)

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