Energy in Victorian Literature and Science

By Barri J. Gold

An engaging exploration of the mutually productive interaction of literature and energy science in the Victorian era, as seen in Tennyson, Dickens, Stoker, and others.





An engaging exploration of the mutually productive interaction of literature and energy science in the Victorian era, as seen in Tennyson, Dickens, Stoker, and others.

In ThermoPoetics, Barri Gold sets out to show us how analogous, intertwined, and mutually productive poetry and physics may be. Charting the simultaneous emergence of the laws of thermodynamics in literature and in physics that began in the 1830s, Gold finds that not only can science influence literature, but literature can influence science, especially in the early stages of intellectual development. Nineteenth-century physics was often conducted in words. And, Gold claims, a poet could be a genius in thermodynamics and a novelist could be a damn good engineer.

Gold's lively readings of works by Alfred Tennyson, Charles Dickens, Herbert Spencer, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, and others offer a decidedly literary introduction to such elements of thermodynamic thought as conservation and dissipation, the linguistic tension between force and energy, the quest for a grand unified theory, strategies for coping within an inexorably entropic universe, and the demonic potential of the thermodynamically savvy individual. Gold shows us that in A Tale of Two Cities, for example, Dickens produces order in spite of the universal drive to entropy; Wilde's Dorian Gray and Stoker's Dracula, on the other hand, reveal the creative potential of chaos.

Victorian literature embraced the language and ideas of energy physics to address the era's concerns about religion, evolution, race, class, empire, gender, and sexuality. Gold argues that these concerns, in turn, shaped the hopes and fears expressed about the new physics.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262013727 360 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in 2 b&w illus.


$16.00 X ISBN: 9780262517317 360 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in 2 b&w illus.


  • Brilliant…A model of what a rigorous engagement with the relationship between culture and science ought to look like. Thermopoetics demonstrates compellingly how central thermodynamics was to the Victorian literary imaginary.

    Allen MacDuffie

    Literature Compass

  • ...[A]n extraordinary reconsideration of Victorian novels, plays, and poems pierced by time's arrow…ThermoPoetics creates a new kind of law, one that recognizes that science and art are not two separate systems, but instead that the rules that govern both fiction and physics are borne out of the same world...

    Michelle Legro

    Brain Pickings

  • ThermoPoetics will appeal to a broad audience ranging from general readers of Victoriana to scholarly readers of cultural studies and dedicated literature and science specialists, to Victorianists and nineteenth-century literature scholars, in general and across national divisions. This work of responsive and responsible scholarship is an important contribution to the field of literature and science.

    Bruce Clark


  • ThermoPoetics provides readers with a fascinating investigation of the interplay between science and literature in the Victorian era.

    SEED Magazine

  • ThermoPoetics is an excellent example of current research that emphasises the common concerns of literature and science: one rather than two cultures.

    PD Smith

    The Guardian

  • [Gold] draws attention to the frequent use of analogy, metaphor and personification in scientific writing that sought to establish the principles of thermodynamic thought… The most endearing aspect of this innovative and accessible book is its unrelenting desire to emphasize the 'literary pleasure' that might be derived from an energetic 'reading practice'.

    The Times Literary Supplement


  • This forthright, personal, and well-informed study will demonstrate to many new readers the cultural importance of Victorian physics.

    Dame Gillian Beer

    King Edward VII Professor of English Literature, and President of Clare Hall, Cambridge University