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Grant number like: FA-252602-17

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Meegan Kennedy Hanson
Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL 32306-0001)

Fellowships for University Teachers
Research Programs

[Grant products]

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
8/1/2017 – 7/31/2018

The Microscope and the Language of Wonder in Victorian Literature

Completion of a book on the role of the microscope and related optics in 19th-century science, literature, and culture.

I will complete my book project, Beautiful Mechanism, and submit it to a university press. The book explores Victorians' romance with the microscope: how writers use the language of wonder and the sublime to describe the eye and its analogue, the microscope. This visionary discourse, common in natural theology and natural history, also marks professional scientific treatises, even as they warn that vision is inherently flawed. Darwin revises the narrative of natural theology by reworking this famous trope of the beautiful mechanism. Overall, Victorians redirect the language of wonder from religious to secular use, celebrating the microscope's role in science, medicine, education, empire, mass media. However, writers also condemn the microscope as unreliable, dangerous, addictive, and sensational. I argue that the microscope as an "exquisite yet flawed mechanism" vexed and energized Victorian observers as they shuddered toward modernity.