“I saw how the fine form of man was degraded and wasted; I beheld the corruption of death succeed to the blooming cheek of life; I saw how the worm inherited the wonders of the eye and brain.” —Victor Frankenstein
Worms. Nature is riddled with them. Literature is crawling with them. And yet despite—or because of—their pervasive form, the worm often provokes an immediate discomfort and unconscious distancing: it is us against them. From the tapeworm to the leech, the maggot to the earthworm, there is always already something muddled or dirty, offensive even, when talking about worms.
Rehabilitating the so-called humble or lowly worm into a powerful aesthetic trope, Worm Work: Recasting Romanticism, proposes a new framework for understanding the worm’s strangely animate nature. This book traces a pattern of cultural production, a vermiCulture constructed throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and on into today, that is as transformative of matter as it is of mind. The upcoming presentation by Worm Work’s author, Dr. Janelle A. Schwartz, promises a lively discussion of all things worm and literature—with a good measure of pop culture thrown in! Her talk will feature a brief introduction to the ideas of “worm work” and “vermiCulture,” and will go on to enumerate some dynamic examples readily found in the literature of the Romantic Age. Her talk will close with an interactive reading, a wormy discussion between author and audience concerning the worm work in a poem by William Blake and a Punch cartoon or two featuring Charles Darwin. She hopes, in the end, to convince you that worms are truly good to think with.
Janelle A. Schwartz received both her master’s degree in comparative literature and her Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has published articles, essays and blogs on literature and ecology, cabinets of curiosity and pedagogy. Her poetry has been published in The Arkansas Review and in an anthology dedicated to Mary Shelley’s The Last Man. Schwartz is the co-editor of Curious Collectors, Collected Curiosities: An Interdisciplinary Study. She is also the author of Worm Work: Recasting Romanticism (2012, University of Minnesota Press), which focuses on the intersection of invertebrate zoology during the 18th and 19th centuries with the poetry and prose of Romanticism. The direction of Schwartz’s next research project involves literary polar landscapes, and she is currently at work on her first travel narrative.
Worm Work is sophisticated and full of unexpected analytic insights. Animal studies have in general been preoccupied by big animals and the nineteenth century, so it is important and refreshing to go a little further back in time and down the great chain of being to see how the lower animals have shaped, and been shaped by, cultural standards.
—Charlotte Sleigh, author of Six Legs Better: A Cultural History of Myrmecology
A good, comprehensive study of the burgeoning field of Romantic literature and science, which will be useful to those working within this area. . . I will certainly take more notice of worms from now on.
—Times Higher Education