By Sarah C. Alexander

The Victorians have been captivated with the empirical yet have been often annoyed via the huge gaps of their knowing of the realm round them. This learn examines how literature and pop culture followed the rising language of physics to give an explanation for the unknown or ‘imponderable’.

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Extra info for Victorian Literature and the Physics of the Imponderable

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32 The idea that light travelled in waves helped explain interference and diffraction effects, but it also required something to cause the movement of the waves. If light was composed of particles rather than waves, then these phenomena could not be explained. 34 Dickensian Physics: Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend and the Luminiferous Ether 25 Widespread belief in the existence of the ether was maintained throughout the nineteenth century despite the fact that it was a theoretical construct with no empirical basis.

The physical explanation for Krook’s combustion also has a chemical explanation, attendant to the physics of ether. 75 Here Dickens is foreshadowing Krook’s death by spontaneous combustion, which was commonly believed to result from heavy drinking combined with pipe-smoking. Indeed, Mr Guppy and Mr Jobling find Krook in his shop breathing stertorously with his chin upon his breast, and quite insensible to any external sounds, or even to gentle shaking. On the table beside him, among the usual lumber, stand an empty gin-bottle and a glass.

Residue, Jelly, Ectoplasm Krook’s life and death, then, represent the universal rhythm and connectivity of physical and economic activity. His hoard, which severed physical and economic connection, is thus dispersed through his physical combustion, thereby reestablishing connection. Because Krook is a figure for the lord chancellor of the 36 Victorian Literature and the Physics of the Imponderable Court of Chancery – his neighbours, Krook explains, call him lord chancellor and his shop the Chancery because he cannot bear to part with anything or alter anything86 – his combustion and the dispersal of his hoard provide a metaphorical corrective for the non-circulatory nature of Chancery Court.

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