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Gideon Mantell, Thomas Hardy, and the politics of geological knowledge

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This paper pays attention to the cultural and political significance of the concept of the ‘provincial’ as it was experienced by two very different geological writers in the Victorian period, the fossil collector Gideon Mantell and the novelist Thomas Hardy. The men are connected through Mantell’s Wonders of Geology, the sixth edition of which Hardy read and utilized for his descriptions of the geological past in his third novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873). In their overlapping considerations of the ways in which the meanings of geological objects and collections were tied to the places in which they were discovered and displayed, and the local practices which made them comprehensible, both Hardy and Mantell viewed geology not only as a science capable of unravelling a long-dead past, but as a science which also shaped the geographical, social and political contours of the world the Victorians inhabited in the present.

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