- The English Cult of Literature: Devoted Readers 1774–1880 by William R. McKelvy (review)
- Victorian Review
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 34, Number 1, Spring 2008
- pp. 187-189
- 10.1353/vcr.2008.0012
- Review
- View Citation
- Additional Information
187 Reviews mathematical problems that he does discuss. For example, in the discussion of squaring the circle, he treats it as a question of merely squaring the circle, when in fact that is easily done; for a circle of radius 1, the required square would have sides whose lengths are the square root of pi.The classical problem is whether this can be done using only a straight edge and compass. It is the ruler and compass requirement that makes the construction problematic, not any intrinsic properties of the square and circle. Similarly, his discussion of algebraic and transcendental numbers and the status of pi (139–140) is a little confused. It is not that algebraic numbers can be “expressed succinctly and totally” (139) and that transcendentals cannot, for pi is totally and succinctly described as the area of a circle of radius 1. Finally, Cohen’s discussion, especially concerning De Morgan and Boole, is not really a discussion of mathematics at all but a discussion of logic. Now, there is a deep connection between logic and mathematics, but they are not identical, a fact that Cohen does not always seem to appreciate. For example, he says that Russell “succeeded by extending the insights of symbolic logic until he proved that mathematics and logic were at heart the same thing—you could construct mathematics out of certain basic laws of logic” (170). This is just not so, as Gödel proved and as any working mathematician can attest. There seems to be a misapprehension here about the nature of mathematics that detracts from the overall value of this book. Nevertheless, it is gratifying to see the central place of mathematics in the history of ideas acknowledged by a non-mathematician.Too often mathematics is overlooked. Perhaps the mathematics itself is too high a technical barrier, yet there was a time when a person would not have been considered educated without having a fluency with mathematical ideas. Ironically, Equations from God illustrates both the need for discussing mathematics and the difficulty of doing so. Works Cited Chaitin, Gregory. Meta-Math!The Quest for Omega. NewYork:Vintage Books, 2005. Davis, Philip J. and Reuben Hersh. The Mathematical Experience. Boston: Brikåuser, 1981. W illia m By ers Concordia University • The English Cult of Literature: Devoted Readers 1774-1880 [Victorian Literature and Culture Series] by William R. McKelvy; pp. xii + 322.Virginia: U ofVirginia P, 2007. $45 cloth. “It was the best of times and the worst of times for religion; it was the age of Darwin and the age of Newman, an age that begins to draw to an end victorian review • Volume 34 Number 1 188 when we imagine an esoteric reader in a London flat making his way through Nietzsche, basking in the roseate twilight of the idols, while down on the street the Salvation Army, with brass artillery thundering, wins yet another celestial victory” (16). SoWilliam McKelvy announces in a book that brilliantly revises dominant, and complacent, conceptions of the relationship among religion, literature, and secularization in the period 1774–1880, demanding too that we refrain from obscuring the theological and ecclesiastical detail that frames the emergence of literary studies. It is certainly still the case that the majority of literary analyses in the field of Romantic and Victorian studies focuses on the political rather than the religious significance of the period.The power of McKelvy’s study is to show, in very impressive detail, that religion and politics together made the platform for an educational and literary agenda that enabled a new mass reading public. As McKelvy states, religion was the single largest paradigm for print well into the 1870s, ending a period in which the “conceptualization of religious truth assumed a public character in coordination with the transformation of reading in a culture of print” (7). The book’s primary and successfully achieved purpose is to explore further the largely remiss assumptions that in the early 1770s, literature began to replace religion as the nation’s moral guide and that the author consequently assumed a sacred vocation. McKelvy deepens and nuances this idea by suggesting that the literature of this period remained locked within ideas of religious...