Mathilde Blind: Rhythm, Energy, and Revolution

  • Gregory TateEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine book series (PLSM)


In the late nineteenth century, theories of thermodynamics and electromagnetism indicated that matter was shaped and reshaped by rhythmic interchanges of energy. Building on the importance of rhythm to physics, poets and science writers alike claimed that the metres of verse might be understood as an expression or manifestation of the pervasive rhythm that structured natural processes across the universe. This chapter proposes that such claims helped to inform the politically radical poems of Mathilde Blind, who identified the cyclical transformations of matter and energy as the foundation of an egalitarian sympathy between people and things. Throughout her poetry, Blind combines materialist and idealist philosophies in her invocation of a universal and revolutionary motion which originates in matter, but which also guides the progress of human thought and history.


  1. Alexander, Sarah C. 2016. Victorian Literature and the Physics of the Imponderable. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  2. Armstrong, Isobel. 1993. Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  3. ———. 1999. Msrepresentation: Codes of Affect and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Women’s Poetry. In Women’s Poetry, Late Romantic to Late Victorian: Gender and Genre, 1830–1900, ed. Isobel Armstrong and Virginia Blain, 3–32. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beer, Gillian. 1996a. “Authentic Tidings of Invisible Things”: Vision and the Invisible in the Later Nineteenth Century. In Vision in Context: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Sight, ed. Teresa Brennan and Martin Jay, 85–98. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. ———. 1996b. Wave Theory and the Rise of Literary Modernism. In Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter, 295–318. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  6. Birch, Katy. 2013. ‘Carrying Her Coyness to a Dangerous Pitch’: Mathilde Blind and Darwinian Sexual Selection. Women: A Cultural Review 24: 71–89.Google Scholar
  7. Blind, Mathilde. 1867. Poems by Claude Lake. London: Alfred W. Bennett.Google Scholar
  8. ———. 1870. Shelley. Westminster Review n.s. 38: 75–97.Google Scholar
  9. ———. 1876. Maxims and Reflections from the German of Goethe. Fraser’s Magazine n.s. 13: 338–348.Google Scholar
  10. ———. 1881. The Prophecy of Saint Oran and Other Poems. London: Newman.Google Scholar
  11. ———. 1886. Shelley’s View of Nature Contrasted with Darwin’s. London: Privately Printed.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. ———. 1889. The Ascent of Man. London: Chatto and Windus.Google Scholar
  13. ———. 1891. Personal Recollections of Mazzini. Fortnightly Review 49: 702–712.Google Scholar
  14. ———. 1895. Birds of Passage: Songs of the Orient and Occident. London: Chatto and Windus.Google Scholar
  15. ———. Blind Correspondence. Vol. 2. Add MS 61928. British Library.Google Scholar
  16. ———. Commonplace Book. MS Walpole e. 1. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.Google Scholar
  17. Boswell, Michelle. 2017. Poetry and Parallax in Mary Somerville’s On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences. Victorian Literature and Culture 45: 727–744.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Brown, Susan. 2003. “A Still and Mute-Born Vision”: Locating Mathilde Blind’s Reproductive Poetics. In Victorian Women Poets, ed. Alison Chapman, 123–144. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.Google Scholar
  19. Choi, Tina Young. 2007. Forms of Closure: The First Law of Thermodynamics and Victorian Narrative. ELH 74: 301–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Clarke, Bruce. 2001. Energy Forms: Allegory and Science in the Era of Classical Thermodynamics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Clifford, William Kingdon. 1875. Review of Balfour Stewart and Peter Guthrie Tait, The Unseen Universe. Fortnightly Review 17: 776–793.Google Scholar
  22. Diedrick, James. 2016. Mathilde Blind: Late-Victorian Culture and the Woman of Letters. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.Google Scholar
  23. Enns, Anthony, and Shelley Trower, eds. 2013. Vibratory Modernism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  24. Fletcher, Robert P. 2005. “Heir of All the Universe”: Evolutionary Epistemology in Mathilde Blind’s Birds of Passage: Songs of the Orient and Occident. Victorian Poetry 43: 435–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gold, Barri J. 2010. ThermoPoetics: Energy in Victorian Literature and Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Golston, Michael. 2008. Rhythm and Race in Modernist Poetry and Science. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Gooday, Graeme. 2004. Sunspots, Weather, and the Unseen Universe: Balfour Stewart’s Anti-Materialist Representations of “Energy” in British Periodicals. In Science Serialized: Representations of the Sciences in Nineteenth-Century Periodicals, ed. Geoffrey Cantor and Sally Shuttleworth, 111–147. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  28. Graham, William. 1881. The Creed of Science: Religious, Moral, and Social. London: Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  29. Groth, Helen. 1999. Victorian Women Poets and Scientific Narratives. In Women’s Poetry, Late Romantic to Late Victorian: Gender and Genre, 1830–1900, ed. Isobel Armstrong and Virginia Blain, 325–351. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Holmes, John. 2009. Darwin’s Bards: British and American Poetry in the Age of Evolution. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Jones, Ewan. 2018. Thermodynamic Rhythm: The Poetics of Waste. Representations 144: 61–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. LaPorte, Charles. 2006. Atheist Prophecy: Mathilde Blind, Constance Naden, and the Victorian Poetess. Victorian Literature and Culture 34: 427–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Levine, Caroline. 2015. Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lockyer, J. Norman, and Balfour Stewart. 1868. The Sun as a Type of the Material Universe: The Place of Life in a Universe of Energy. Macmillan’s Magazine 18: 319–327.Google Scholar
  35. Lyons, Sara. 2012. “Let Your Life on Earth Be Life Indeed”: Aestheticism and Secularism in Mathilde Blind’s The Prophecy of St. Oran and “On a Torso of Cupid.” In Writing Women of the Fin de Siècle: Authors of Change, ed. Adrienne E. Gavin and Carolyn Oulton, 55–69. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  36. MacDuffie, Allen. 2014. Victorian Literature, Energy, and the Ecological Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Maxwell, James Clerk. 1876. Matter and Motion. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.Google Scholar
  38. ———. 1990–2002. The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell. Ed. P.M. Harman. 3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Moine, Fabienne. 2015. Women Poets in the Victorian Era: Cultural Practices and Nature Poetry. Farnham: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  40. Myers, Greg. 1985. Nineteenth-Century Popularizations of Thermodynamics and the Rhetoric of Social Prophecy. Victorian Studies 29: 35–66.Google Scholar
  41. Rudy, Jason R. 2009. Electric Meters: Victorian Physiological Poetics. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Smith, Crosbie. 1998. The Science of Energy: A Cultural History of Energy Physics in Victorian Britain. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  43. Somerville, Mary. 1837. On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences. 4th edn. London: John Murray.Google Scholar
  44. Stewart, Balfour, and Peter Guthrie Tait. 1875. The Unseen Universe or Physical Speculations on a Future State. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  45. Strauss, David Friedrich. 1872. Der Alte und Der Neue Glaube: Ein Bekenntniss. Leipzig: S. Hirzel.Google Scholar
  46. ———. 1873. The Old Faith and the New: A Confession. Trans. Mathilde Blind. 1st edn. London: Asher.Google Scholar
  47. ———. 1874. The Old Faith and the New: A Confession. Trans. Mathilde Blind. 3rd edn. London: Asher.Google Scholar
  48. Swinburne, Algernon Charles. 1871. Songs before Sunrise. London: F. S. Ellis.Google Scholar
  49. ———. 1959–62. The Swinburne Letters. Ed. Cecil Y. Lang. 6 vols. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Tucker, Herbert F. 2008. Epic: Britain’s Heroic Muse 1790–1910. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tyndall, John. 1865. The Constitution of the Universe. Fortnightly Review 3: 129–144.Google Scholar
  52. ———. 1877. Science and Man. Fortnightly Review 22: 593–617.Google Scholar
  53. Whewell, William. 1840. The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences. 2 vols. London: John W. Parker.Google Scholar
  54. Wilhelm, Lindsay. 2016. The Utopian Evolutionary Aestheticism of W. K. Clifford, Walter Pater, and Mathilde Blind. Victorian Studies 59: 9–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EnglishUniversity of St AndrewsSt AndrewsUK

Personalised recommendations