Strange Science

Investigating the Limits of Knowledge in the Victorian Age
Edited by Lara Karpenko and Shalyn Claggett
With a Foreword by Dame Gillian Beer
A fascinating look at scientific inquiry during the Victorian period and the shifting boundary between mainstream and unorthodox sciences of the time


The essays in Strange Science examine marginal, fringe, and unconventional forms of scientific inquiry, as well as their cultural representations, in the Victorian period. Although now relegated to the category of the pseudoscientific, fields like mesmerism and psychical research captured the imagination of the Victorian public. Conversely, many branches of science now viewed as uncontroversial, such as physics and botany, were often associated with unorthodox methods of inquiry. Whether ultimately incorporated into mainstream scientific thought or categorized by 21st century historians as pseudo- or even anti-scientific, these sciences generated conversation, enthusiasm, and controversy within Victorian society.

To date, scholarship addressing Victorian pseudoscience tends to focus either on a particular popular science within its social context or on how mainstream scientific practice distinguished itself from more contested forms. Strange Science takes a different approach by placing a range of sciences in conversation with one another and examining the similar unconventional methods of inquiry adopted by both now-established scientific fields and their marginalized counterparts during the Victorian period. In doing so, Strange Science reveals the degree to which scientific discourse of this period was radically speculative, frequently attempting to challenge or extend the apparent boundaries of the natural world. This interdisciplinary collection will appeal to scholars in the fields of Victorian literature, cultural studies, the history of the body, and the history of science.

“A valuable reflection on the changing conception of science that emerged in the nineteenth century and helped shape the modern world. . . . From the orthodox to the bizarre, the ‘strange science’ covered in this collection reminds us that the category of ‘science’ itself was being negotiated throughout the century.”
—Jay Clayton, Vanderbilt University

Lara Karpenko is Associate Professor of English at Carroll University.

Shalyn Claggett is Associate Professor of English at Mississippi State University.

Praise / Awards

  • "Overall there will be much to interest the general reader in this delightful collection of Victorian obscure scientific approaches." 
    --The British Society for Literature and Science
  • "Calling attention to differences in what “strange” means for Victorians and for us, at least in regard to science, the editors remind us that science is both a realm of wonder and intimately connected to mundane experience."
    --Nineteenth-Century Contexts
  • "Readers of Strange Science will each have different assessments of what is most useful and compelling in this wide-ranging volume, but the essays will certainly be valuable to scholars working on nineteenth-century literature and science, and they will surprise, delight, and instruct a diverse audience."
    --Journal of British Studies
  • "Scholars interested in science and literature, or science and Victorian culture broadly conceived, will find this volume informative and thought-provoking. Historians of science will be interested in the rich array of examples of how science engaged, and was engaged by, broader aesthetic and literary practices."
    --Annals of Science

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 312pp.
  • 8 B&W illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2016
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-13017-7

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  • $49.95 U.S.

  • Open Access
  • 2017
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-90077-0

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  • Audio Download
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-00382-2

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  • $0.00 U.S.



  • Pseudoscience; Plants and botany; Body studies; Energy and physics; Charles Dickens; Bleak House; Oscar Wilde; Picture of Dorian Gray; Charles Bernard Shaw; Pygmalion; Charles Adams; Notting Hill Mystery; Francis Galton