Upcoming Event

Renée Bergland at Harvard Book Store


Natural Magic:
Emily Dickinson, Charles Darwin,
and the Dawn of Modern Science

in conversation with ANNA HENCHMAN


April 30, 2024
7:00 PM ET


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes RENÉE BERGLAND—professor of literature and creative writing at Simmons University and author of Maria Mitchell and The National Uncanny—for a discussion of her new book Natural Magic: Emily Dickinson, Charles Darwin, and the Dawn of Modern Science. She will be joined in conversation by ANNA HENCHMAN—author of The Starry Sky Within and associate professor of English at Boston University.

About Natural Magic

Emily Dickinson and Charles Darwin were born at a time when the science of studying the natural world was known as natural philosophy, a pastime for poets, priests, and schoolgirls. The world began to change in the 1830s, while Darwin was exploring the Pacific aboard the Beagle and Dickinson was a student in Amherst, Massachusetts. Poetry and science started to grow apart, and modern thinkers challenged the old orthodoxies, offering thrilling new perspectives that suddenly felt radical—and too dangerous for women.

Natural Magic intertwines the stories of these two luminary nineteenth-century minds whose thought and writings captured the awesome possibilities of the new sciences and at the same time strove to preserve the magic of nature. Just as Darwin’s work was informed by his roots in natural philosophy and his belief in the interconnectedness of all life, Dickinson’s poetry was shaped by her education in botany, astronomy, and chemistry, and by her fascination with the enchanting possibilities of Darwinian science. Casting their two very different careers in an entirely fresh light, Renée Bergland brings to life a time when ideas about science were rapidly evolving, reshaped by poets, scientists, philosophers, and theologians alike. She paints a colorful portrait of a remarkable century that transformed how we see the natural world.

Illuminating and insightful, Natural Magic explores how Dickinson and Darwin refused to accept the separation of art and science. Today, more than ever, we need to reclaim their shared sense of ecological wonder.

Praise for Natural Magic

“In this innovative study, Renée Bergland juxtaposes two passionate observers of the natural world to explore the poetry in Darwin and the science in Dickinson. Though they were separated by an ocean—at once real and metaphorical—she nevertheless finds deep unities in their understanding of the changing earth and its organisms. To them the world appeared to be alive with relationships—living relationships that provide the magic of her title.” —Janet Browne, author of Charles Darwin: A Biography

“If, like me, you would invite Emily Dickinson and Charles Darwin to share an imagined soirée, fantasize no more. Renée Bergland brings together their life stories and their complementary artistic and intellectual pursuits in her well-researched, beautifully written book. It is a robust conversation, and pure enchantment.”—Marta McDowell, author of Emily Dickinson’s Gardening Life

“A riveting narrative that crisscrosses the Atlantic, Natural Magic tells a story of two figures driven by their wonder at the intricate delicacies of the natural world. It shows Dickinson and Darwin enthralled by surprising proximities that the study of nature lays bare. At its heart, Natural Magic reillumines a time in which scientific thinking is still linked to mystery and a marvelous connectedness.” —Anna Henchman, author of The Starry Sky Within

Masking Policy

Masks are encouraged but not required for this event.

Anna Henchman
Anna Henchman

Anna Henchman

Anna Henchman is an associate professor of English at Boston University and focuses on 19th-century British literature and science. She has published one book—The Starry Sky Within: Astronomy and the Reach of the Mind—and is working on a second called Tiny Creatures and the Boundaries of Being.

Renée Bergland
Renée Bergland

Renée Bergland

Renée Bergland is professor of literature and creative writing at Simmons University. She is the author of Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of Science: An Astronomer among the American Romantics and The National Uncanny: Indian Ghosts and American Subjects.

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