Professor Tina Young Choi’s new book explores Victorian contingencies

an open book

Tina Young Choi, associate professor and chair of the Department of English at York University, launched her new book Victorian Contingencies: Experiments in Literature, Science, and Play.

Victorian Contingencies: Experiments in Literature, Science, and Play book cover

Published by Stanford University Press, the book is a cross-disciplinary work that combines literary criticism, history of science, and cultural history. Victorian Contingencies investigates the place of contingency as a conceptual and narrative principle in 19th century literature and science.  

Choi examines contingency across materials and media, from newspaper advertisements and children’s stories to well-known novels, scientific discoveries and technological innovations. She shows how Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin reinvented geological and natural histories as spaces for temporal and causal experimentation, while the growing insurance industry influenced Charles Babbage’s design for a computational machine capable of responding to a contingent future. Choi pairs novelists George Eliot and Lewis Carroll with physicist James Clerk Maxwell, demonstrating how they introduced possibility and probability into once-assured literary and scientific narratives. She also explores the popular board games and pre-cinematic visual entertainments that encouraged Victorians to navigate a world made newly uncertain. 

“As someone who teaches, reads, and writes about the Victorians, I’ve been inspired by just how experimental, playful, and interdisciplinary the period’s writings, both scientific and literary, can be,” says Choi. “My book isn’t intended as the final word on these topics or works, but as an invitation to both students and scholars to think about the ways these works complicated understandings of causality and history in the 19th century.” 

Choi is a member of the graduate faculties in English, humanities, and science and technology studies and a founding member of the Victorian Studies Network at York. Her work includes a 2016 monograph, Anonymous Connections: The Body and Narratives of the Social in Victorian Britain, along with numerous articles about the intersections among 19th century science, literature and popular culture. 

To learn more about Choi’s new book, visit the Stanford University Press website.