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  • The Age of Analogy: Science and Literature Between the Darwins by Devin Griffiths
  • Pascale Manning
Devin Griffiths. The Age of Analogy: Science and Literature Between the Darwins. Johns Hopkins UP, 2016. 352 pp. $55usd.

In The Age of Analogy, Devin Griffiths responds to John Stuart Mill's observation that "'There is no word … which is used more loosely, or in a greater variety of senses, than Analogy'" (221), arguing that the age that produced Mill's complaint reveals the "entanglement" of the language of comparison and analogy and that this "marks the larger nineteenth-century transformation by which different discourses of analogy and comparison were reformulated as the modern comparative method" (3). According to Griffiths, the age of analogy is the era that saw the growth of "alternative theorists of the past"—from philologists to anatomists to mythologists to antiquarians, as well as the literary authors bridging these disparate efforts—whose use of "comparative analysis to address the past in terms of contingent patterns of relation and differentiation" (3) marked a distinct shift away from a neoclassical style of historicism that seeks to delineate an "orderly cosmos" (68) governed by a "unifying narrativ[e]" (92), tidily represented by the epic poem, toward an ever-more multiple and conjectural historicism whose dialogic elasticity both owes much to and is well represented by the capaciousness of the multiplot historical novel. The book's subtitle, Science and Literature between the Darwins, signals its commitment to tracing how "new literary modes and historical procedures, which took definitive form in the historical novel"—specifically, the fiction of Sir Walter Scott—"constituted a new technology for [End Page 135] writing about past events and thinking about their complex relations to present experience" (2).

In charting the nineteenth century's turn from structural to historicist comparison, Griffiths distinguishes between two types of analogy: "mapping" theories, or "formal analogy," which "can be programmatic" and "directional," and the more dynamic form of "harmonic analogy," which is "reciprocal" and more robustly dialectical (36). Two opening chapters, an introduction and a prologue, work to chart Griffiths's theory of analogy as "essentially epistemological" (45), as that which manifests reciprocity between "words and the world" (40) by giving "voice to patterns that have no name" (11). For Griffiths, "Analogies show that words matter": they "not only shape the understanding they provide but also provide one of our most powerful forms of access to matter itself—its behavior, and its interaction with human life and history" (47). The chapters that follow are bookended by the Darwins of the subtitle, Erasmus and Charles—the former emblematizing the progressive, stadial, and uniform Whig historicism from which the nineteenth century shifts away, and the latter manifesting a capacity to incorporate discontinuity in reconstructions of the past, dynamically synthesizing social and natural histories by means of incorporating the interstices between "lives, experiences, and material objects" (11) in order "to articulate history as a tense composite rather than an organic whole" (15).

The three chapters nestled between the Darwins, on Walter Scott, Alfred Tennyson, and George Eliot, articulate three literary modes of analogical historicism, tracing shifting sensibilities as each author demonstrates the turn away from Erasmus Darwin's "coherent epic of nature" (54) and toward a historical model that embraces diversity, chance, and "granularity" (80). Scott's emplotments of an entangled, dynamic past, whose complex trajectories help to reveal the present as an equally deformalized network of relationships continually shaped and influenced by the restless past, read history "as a network of unresolved possibilities" (134) that threaten to "possess the present" (85). In sympathetically incorporating what is dead "into the life of the living" (132), Tennyson's analogic elegy effects "reflexive movements between the present and the past" (129). And Eliot's exploitation of combined formal and harmonic analogy and what Griffiths terms "disanalogy" (24) both grasps the imaginative potential of figurative thought (in which analogy is shown to be sensate and real through the shifting relations between objects of comparison) and mobilizes "analogy's strong potential to be disproven in order to formulate a model of representational realism that is falsifiable" (24). Together these [End Page 136] chapters not only enrich our sense...


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pp. 135-139
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