Rachel Mann

Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Michael Gavin


Women’s Writing and the Poetics of Scientific Knowledge, 1620-1740 probes the porous boundary between science and literature, revealing that the methodologies undergirding scientific experimentation were developed communally and through a confluence of interdisciplinary and cultural concerns. Ultimately, it shows that our contemporary understanding of the natural world and the scientific method have a history that is largely one of fragments. Secondly, and more importantly, it demonstrates the value of reading imaginative writing alongside scientific developments of the day.

Focusing on women’s imaginative writing in particular reveals the power and limits that ostensibly liminal voices have. As such, Women’s Writing and the Poetics of Scientific Knowledge, 1620-1740 continues, in part, the vital project of recovery. Concomitantly, it also suggests that it was women’s very marginality that enabled them to create a nexus between types of discourse and the larger scientific and literary milieu. Although barred, institutionally, from practicing experimental science, women remained active participants in contributing to the shape knowledge took. Chapters centered on political, microscopic, epistolary, and anatomical life show how women writers of the period—Margaret Cavendish, Aphra Behn, and Jane Barker, among others—experimented with hybrid narrative forms to account for and illustrate different ways of knowing; critiqued empirical practices and the illusion of objectivity; and used imaginative writing to offer an alternative model for understanding the natural world and one’s place within it.