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'Because the Error is Material': Tracing Error in the Works of Thomas Browne and Margaret Cavendish

Cawthorne, Sarah (2014) 'Because the Error is Material': Tracing Error in the Works of Thomas Browne and Margaret Cavendish. MA by research thesis, University of York.

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This thesis examines how error is conceived and depicted in the works of Thomas Browne and Margaret Cavendish. Examining an area which has largely been neglected due to the modern scholarly tendency to privilege positivistic accounts of ‘truth’ and ‘progress’, I will consider the rhetoric of error which pervades early modern texts. Identifying a commonly expressed and tightly linked nexus between error, errancy and the material book in the early modern period, this thesis uses close literary analysis to complicate common notions of how ‘error’ was imagined, encountered and experienced in the seventeenth century. Focusing on the natural philosophical writings of Browne and Cavendish (particularly the Pseudodoxia Epidemica, Poems and Fancies, and Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy) I show that the aesthetic and figurative depiction of error both influenced and reflected these authors’ epistemological concerns. My account traces a range of responses to error, suggesting that as well as causing anxiety, error was also a source of pleasure, aligned with creativity and inventiveness, and peculiarly generative. I highlight and analyse a semantic tendency to use spatial terms to depict the complex relations between error, truth and knowledge. Exploring the rhetoric of errant paths and erroneous obstructions in metaphorical landscapes of knowledge, as well as tracing the similar paths of errant reading promoted by the material book, I show that error was perceived of as a fundamental step towards knowledge, rather than a detraction from it. I draw on developments in the fields of the history of reading and cognitive science to indicate that the literary rhetoric that draws together error, errancy, cognitive process and the material book has more than just metaphorical significance to these writers, concluding that it perpetuates and constructs modes of knowing central to Browne and Cavendish’s natural philosophy.

Item Type: Thesis (MA by research)
Academic Units: The University of York > English and Related Literature (York)
Depositing User: Ms Sarah Cawthorne
Date Deposited: 08 May 2015 11:24
Last Modified: 28 Apr 2017 00:18
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/8821

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