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Symonds Reprismed: Science and Religion in the Poetry and Prose of John Addington Symonds

AHMED, AALIA (2021) Symonds Reprismed: Science and Religion in the Poetry and Prose of John Addington Symonds. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 14 December 2024.


The dominant critical perspective in scholarship of John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) focuses on his homosexuality, but there remains no sustained analysis of his engagement with religious, scientific, and philosophical thought, contemporary and inherited. This thesis redresses the balance by being the first to undertake a sustained close reading of Symonds’s poetry, essays, and letters that demonstrates his consistent interest in the conciliation of religion, philosophy, science, and poetry as part of his ‘new metaphysic’. The present study revaluates the achievements of his poetry alongside his prose, which has generally been more highly regarded. In Symonds’s thought, faith and science were not in conflict but rather interdependent realities that informed one another and strengthened his fundamental belief in God as Law.
Chapter one traces the evolution of Symonds’s protean religion which absorbed and adapted the theories of his various influencers and influences. This creates a framework necessary to understand the interdisciplinarity of Symonds’s literary output, his attempt to harmonise philosophy, science, and poetry that is analysed in the subsequent chapters. Chapter two presents Symonds as cultural anthropologist, focusing on 'Palumba: A Mexican Tale' (1878), a poem hitherto unexplored in literary criticism, to consider his interrogation of phusis (‘origins’) through the evolution of symbols, that contract within them religious and scientific significances. Chapter three analyses the interrelations of Symonds’s poetry, especially 'Animi Figura' (1882), and the science of astronomy, examining the reciprocal nature of the physical environment and his thought processes, to present Symonds as a nature poet. Chapter four situates Symonds in the poetic tradition of the poet-prophet figure, presenting him as a visionary adopting the philosophical principles of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Walt Whitman to give shape to his personal conception of and unwavering faith in a democratic vista of the future.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2021
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:14 Dec 2021 15:40

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