Useful Knowledge

The Victorians, Morality, and the March of Intellect

Useful Knowledge

Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 20 illustrations Published: July 2001

Author: Alan Rauch

Cultural Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

Nineteenth-century England witnessed an unprecedented increase in the number of publications and institutions devoted to the creation and the dissemination of knowledge: encyclopedias, scientific periodicals, instruction manuals, scientific societies, children’s literature, mechanics’ institutes, museums of natural history, and lending libraries. In Useful Knowledge Alan Rauch presents a social, cultural, and literary history of this new knowledge industry and traces its relationships within nineteenth-century literature, ending with its eventual confrontation with Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species.
Rauch discusses both the influence and the ideology of knowledge in terms of how it affected nineteenth-century anxieties about moral responsibility and religious beliefs. Drawing on a wide array of literary, scientific, and popular works of the period, the book focusses on the growing importance of scientific knowledge and its impact on Victorian culture. From discussions of Jane Webb Loudon’s The Mummy! and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, to Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor, Charles Kingsley’s Alton Locke, and George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss, Rauch paints a fascinating picture of nineteenth-century culture and addresses issues related to the proliferation of knowledge and the moral issues of this time period. Useful Knowledge touches on social and cultural anxieties that offer both historical and contemporary insights on our ongoing preoccupation with knowledge.
Useful Knowledge will appeal to readers interested in nineteenth century history, literature, culture, the mediation of knowledge, and the history of science.


Useful Knowledge is an interdisciplinary study that will appeal to a variety of readers, from historians to scientists to literary critics. Since so much of the book is devoted to novelistic treatments of religious issues, it will of course be of special interest to readers of Christianity and Literature. I offer a strong recommendation of Rauch’s book.” — Robert H. Ellison , Christianity and Literature

“[A] lively and illuminating study” — Nancy Ellenberger , Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences

“[A] unique perspective in the impact of knowledge on both religious and class issues.” — English Literature in Transition

“[T]his book offers compelling insights to the problem the Victorians faced in understanding their universe while hoping to adjust to their moral and ethical traditions.” — James Thayne Covert , History

“[W]ell-conceived [and] well-researched. . . .” — S. C. Dillon , Choice

“Rauch paints a fascinating picture of nineteenth-century culture and addresses issues related to the proliferation of knowledge and the moral issues of this time period. Useful Knowledge touches on social and cultural anxieties that offer both historical and contemporary insights into our ongoing preoccupation with knowledge.” — New Books in Nineteenth-Century Studies

"[E]ngrossing and illuminating. . . ." — Diana Postlethwaite, Albion

"[I]lluminating. . . . I cannot do justice here to [Rauch’s] readings, which are impressively informed, intelligent, and carefully contextualized."

— Norris Pope , Technology and Culture

"[I]nteresting and informative. . . . [A] solid introduction to the manner in which the popular diffusion of knowledge not only influenced Victorian novels, but deeply informed their shape and content." — Frank M. Turner, Victorian Studies

"Rauch’s Useful Knowledge is excellent in many ways. . . . Rauch has written an informative, insightful book that everyone who deals with nineteenth-century British culture will find of interest."
— Patrick Brantlinger , Journal of English and Germanic Philology

"The chapters on the early-nineteenth-century knowledge texts . . . work very well together to give precisely that picture of early-century knowledge culture at a variety of cultural sites." — Kathy Alexis Psomiades , Nineteenth Century Studies

"This is a valuable historical project. . . ." — Andrew Elfenbein , Studies in English Literature 1500-1900

Useful Knowledge can stand as a model of informed and scrupulous historicism. The breadth of Rauch’s acquaintance with subliterary and paraliterary texts is truly impressive as he clearly lays out what was at stake for nineteenth-century intellectuals and usefully relates their preoccupations with those that concern us now, as we experience another information revolution.” — Harriet Ritvo, author of The Platypus and the Mermaid, and Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination

“A welcome addition to humanistic analyses of science-in-culture. Rauch deftly blends science, history, and literature—novels, speculative fiction, encyclopedias—to explore cultural attitudes to the challenges of new knowledge during the Information Age of the early nineteenth century.” — Ann B. Shteir, York University


Availability: In stock
Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Alan Rauch is Associate Professor in the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Introduction: Knowledge and the Novel

1. Food for Thought: The Dissemination of Knowledge in the Early Nineteenth Century

2. Science in the Popular Novel: Jane Webb Loudon’s The Mummy!

3. The Monstrous Body of Knowledge: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

4. Lessons Learned in Class: Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor

5. The Tailor Transformed: Charles Kingsley’s Alton Locke

6. Destiny as an Unmapped River: George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss



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Winner, 2001 Best Non-Fiction Book Award (presented by Georgia Writers Association)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2668-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2663-2
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