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Uncertain Chances: Science, Skepticism, and Belief in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (Paperback)
  • Uncertain Chances: Science, Skepticism, and Belief in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (Paperback)
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Uncertain Chances: Science, Skepticism, and Belief in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (Paperback)

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Paperback 282 Pages / Published: 06/06/2013
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The role of chance changed in the nineteenth century, and American literature changed with it. Long dismissed as a nominal concept, chance was increasingly treated as a natural force to be managed but never mastered. New theories of chance sparked religious and philosophical controversies while revolutionizing the sciences as probabilistic methods spread from mathematics, economics, and sociology to physics and evolutionary biology. Chance also became more visible in everyday life, as Americans attempted to control its power through weather forecasting, insurance policies, military strategy, and financial dealings. Uncertain Chances shows how the rise of chance shaped the way nineteenth-century American writers confronted questions of doubt and belief. Poe's detective fiction critiques probabilistic methods; Melville's works struggle to vindicate moral action under conditions of chance; Douglass and other African American authors fight against statistical racism; Thoreau learns to appreciate the play between nature's randomness and order; and Dickinson works faithfully to render poetically the affective experience of chance-surprise. These and other nineteenth-century writers dramatize the inescapable dangers and wonderful possibilities of chance. Their writings even help to navigate extremes that remain with us today-fundamentalism and relativism, determinism and chaos, terrorism and risk-management, the rational confidence of the Enlightenment and the debilitating doubts of modernity.

Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
ISBN: 9780199985814
Number of pages: 282
Weight: 1048 g
Dimensions: 236 x 156 x 17 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS
An erudite...densely informative study. * The Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin *
Uncertain Chances is an adventurous, learned, and powerfully argued inquiry into the manifold ways in which the ideas of chance, indeterminacy, and probability energized the thinking of the most prominent authors of the antebellum era. Over and again well-known texts and authors appear in a surprising new light. * Eric Sundquist, Johns Hopkins University *
Impressively wide-ranging and erudite, Uncertain Chances presents an original account of how antebellum American writers used chance to come to terms with doubt. Unlike the usual historical narrative, Lee's study persuasively argues that nineteenth-century America's exploration of the problem of doubt and the solution of probability was well underway before the Civil War and the pragmatism of Pierce, James, and Dewey. * Gregg Crane, University of Michigan *
In this trenchant, wide-ranging, and witty book, Maurice Lee analyzes the intellectual affinity between Poe, Melville, Thoreau, Douglass, and Dickinson-who grappled with uncertainty-and the later philosophical pragmatism of writers such as Charles Sanders Peirce and William James. Showing continuity, not simply disruption, across the Civil War, Lee rewrites nineteenth-century American literary and intellectual history. * Samuel Otter, University of California, Berkeley *
Lee's theoretical sophistication and clear, direct prose proves a winning combination that will likely satisfy all readers...Essential. * Choice *

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