English, Department of


Date of this Version



2019 The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

doi: 10.1086/707200


the Wordsworth circle v50/n4 2019


Joanna Wharton’s Material Enlightenment: Women Writers and the Science of Mind, 1770–1830 is a recent addition to the interdisciplinary series Studies in the Eighteenth Century that Boydell Press (Boydell & Brewer Publishers) is publishing in association with the British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies. It is a welcome addition to the growing body of work that addresses the contributions of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British women writers to areas of scientific, philosophical, and otherwise “learned” discourse that have historically been associated primarily—and in many cases exclusively—with male thinkers and writers. Wharton’s study therefore helps to flesh out the picture of women’s intellectual, imaginative, and cultural contributions to their times and their sociopolitical milieus that has been traced in greater detail in the areas of literature and the arts, as well as in political, social, and economic activism. Less widely remarked— and even less well examined—have been the remarkable achievements of British women like Caroline Herschel (astronomy), Etheldred Benett (often called the first female geologist), Harriet Henrietta Beaufort (botany), Elizabeth Fulhame (chemistry), Mary Somerville (physics), Lady Hester Stanhope (archaeology), and Maria Graham (travel writing). Women and the science of mind, Wharton’s particular focus, has received even less notice, notwithstanding Alan Richardson’s work (most notably his British Romanticism and the Science of Mind, 2001) and that of others (such as Jennie Batchelor, 2010; Sara Ahmed, 2010; and Richard Sha, 2018) who have followed.