Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Literary and Cultural Studies

Committee Member

Shelby Crosby

Committee Member

John Miles

Committee Member

Jeffrey Scraba


From Jeu D’Esprit to Exact Science: Speculation, Science, and Literary Expression in the US, 1870-1895 argues that as the nineteenth century closes, speculative prerogatives become practically forbidden as a motive for scientific inquiry, yet more common in literary writing and other imaginative extrapolations. Linking this development to two metascientific concepts, gradualism and descriptionism, which come to fruition in the second half of the century, I explore how a variety of texts, including novels, short stories, editorials, and scientific reports of the 1870s, 80s, and 90s, advance and confront these concepts. The introduction establishes 1870-1895 as a period of diverse definitions, prerogatives, and print mediations of science. Each subsequent chapter examines an element of this cacophony. Chapter two, “Speculation, Extraction, and Polytechnical Education in The Gilded Age,” reads Twain and Warner’s The Gilded Age as a critique arising from the gold and silver rushes of the 1850s and 60s in which the authors recommend organized, professional, systemic science over haphazard prospecting activity. Chapter three, “Demarcation Problems: Speculation, Extrapolation, and Pseudo/science in the Works of Ignatius Donnelly,” argues Donnelly’s pseudoscientific writing on broadly geological topics urges his readers to reimagine humanity’s place in the universe. Moving from her earliest writing to her superlative treatment of the individual as document in A Country Doctor, chapter four, “The Value of an Individual: Sarah Orne Jewett as Statistician,” suggests that Jewett’s regionalist fiction responds to statistically-driven social science by doing another kind of statistical description, rather than rejecting statistics outright. Finally, in chapter five, “‘Speculation Has Exhausted Itself’: Iola Leroy, Social Con/science, and Racial Uplift,” I contrast the sentimentalism of Francis Ellen Watkins Harper’s historical romance, Iola Leroy, to ethnologies by Alexander Crummell, William Wells Brown, and George Washington Williams. I argue that Harper’s narrative envisions a Christian humanism that champions affective certitude over propositional scientific truth, making individual experience the arbiter of sociological description rather than the other way around.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.