Ian Duncan’s Human Forms promises to realign understandings of the realist novel’s relationship to nineteenth-century science. In practice, it does a good deal more. In presenting the novel as “the literary form of the human” (9) even as the human was being radically rethought as a species, subject to natural history, evolution, and eventual extinction, Duncan mounts a vital response to the conjoined disciplinary and planetary crises that see the humanities in decline in the midst of that new “human age,” the Anthropocene. The book’s central claim is that, in the wake of the Enlightenment sciences of “man,” which inscribed the human within natural history, “the novel reorganizes itself as the literary form of the modern scientific conception of a developmental, that is, mutable rather than fixed human nature” (8). Even more striking, to my mind, is the juxtaposition of the human...
Human Forms: The Novel in the Age of Evolution
Jesse Oak Taylor is associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in English at the University of Washington. He is author of The Sky of Our Manufacture: The London Fog in British Fiction from Dickens to Woolf (2016) and coeditor of Anthropocene Reading: Literary History in Geologic Times (2017).
Jesse Oak Taylor; Human Forms: The Novel in the Age of Evolution. Modern Language Quarterly 1 March 2021; 82 (1): 123–126. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-8742521
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