Many of the poems by Constance Naden (1858-1889) focus on exploring the intersections of poetry and science, an intriguing effort given that at the end of the Victorian period, these were assumed to be opposite enterprises. Even more interesting is the fact that despite cultural assumptions about science being the province of the masculine mind, Naden's work both purposefully asserts the ability of women to engage with science and challenges the Victorian cultural tendency to offer "scientific" justifications for notions of female intellectual inferiority. This essay examines the quartet of poems called "Evolutional Erotics," the work of hers that has generally garnered attention in the small flurry of scholarly activity recently focused on Naden, against the larger context of her Complete Poetical Works (1894). In these four witty, playful poems, Naden uses the languages of science-evolution, botany, chemistry, physics-to create metaphors and conceits through which to explore the courtships of four fictional couples. Taken together with her long poems, Naden's work presents heterosexual lovematches that interrogate the triangulated relationship between science, poetry, and British Victorian gender-based expectations. Largely through her invocation of Charles Darwin's ideas of evolution, and in verse resembling that of Erasmus Darwin in its conjunction of science and human sexuality, Naden uses her poetry to model the necessary fluidity of disciplinary boundaries. Moreover, in merging the "male" scientific mind with a feminist poetics, Naden is a writer-and, by implication, posits a reader-whose facility with both science and poetics indicates an evolutionary step toward respecting women's intellect.
- 2006 by The Regents of the University of California