Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, later the first permanent secretary of the Parisian Academy of Science, published his popular explanation of the heliocentric system, the Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds) in 1686. The following century saw dozens of editions of the little book in several European languages. Although some of its presuppositions (e.g. Descartes’s vortex theory) were refuted soon after its appearance, it was influential in securing wider acceptance for the Copernican theory. The musings of the protagonists – a natural philosopher and an aristocratic lady – on the possibility of extraterrestrial life enhanced its attractiveness and entertaining quality. Course participants will engage in a close, contextualized reading of the first English translation (1688) of the work by the novelist and playwright Aphra Behn. This will provide insights into a wide range of topics and processes in an important period of transition in European cultural history, from the cultivation, the politics and forms of knowledge, through the transparencies between science, literature and sociability, to the history of gender and inter-lingual translation and reception. Besides these insights, students will also have the opportunity to refine their skills in contextual analysis and understanding of texts.
Full syllabus will be available by March 2020.