Anglia Ruskin Research Online (ARRO)
2 files

Evolutionary narratives in the poetry and prose of Constance Naden

posted on 2023-08-30, 19:28 authored by Stephen Ridley
Since the late twentieth-century a renewed interest in Constance Naden, the late Victorian polymath, has focused on a narrow selection of her poetry. Consequently, researchers have neglected the bulk of her verse, prose and philosophical writing. This is an incomplete picture of Naden’s contribution to the 1870s/1880s cultural context. My thesis, therefore, provides a systematic reading of Naden’s entire published and unpublished poetic oeuvre, essays and miscellaneous writings from this post-Darwinian period. This analysis reveals the development of evolutionary narratives, from uncertain beginnings, through to their becoming an intrinsic part of her writing. It also reveals Naden’s progression from a religious but non-conformist upbringing, to agnosticism and possibly atheism. These narratives also uncover the influence of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer and the development of her philosophical system, Hylo-Idealism. Naden was one of the best educated women of her generation and her extensive engagement with religion, science and philosophy suggested a bright future but for her death at thirty-one. Hylo-Idealism did not survive long after her passing, however, and the thesis posits reasons for its demise. The thesis also investigates Naden’s afterlife, uncovering a degree of myth-making following her early death. I argue that this was an attempt, by a small circle of intellectuals, to establish Naden within the narratives of her own time by continuing to publish her writing posthumously. They wanted to guarantee that Naden was accepted as an important philosopher of the 1870s/1880s and to ensure that she would still be relevant to evolutionary debates of the 1890s. My study of both Naden’s evolutionary narratives and her afterlife presents a holistic view of her as she appeared to her contemporaries. By analysing the trajectory of Naden’s scientific, religious and philosophical development, and by elucidating the growth of evolutionary narratives in her work, my multi-disciplinary thesis is a new contribution to Naden studies.



Anglia Ruskin University

File version

  • Accepted version


  • eng

Thesis name

  • PhD

Thesis type

  • Doctoral

Legacy posted date


Legacy creation date


Legacy Faculty/School/Department

Theses from Anglia Ruskin University/Faculty of Arts, Law and Social Sciences

Usage metrics

    ARU Theses


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager