Beauty and the fish
in The Victorian aquarium
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Through the analysis of James Shirley Hibberd’s The Book of the Aquarium, Chapter 3 explores the ornamental functions that Victorian tanks were meant to perform: on the one hand, the aquarium was conceptualised as a mirror of its owner, situating the hobby within a cluster of social, moral, and economic discourses that did much to foster the vogue, endowing it with further resonance and meaning; on the other hand, though, such density of expectations might have contributed to the demise of tank keeping. The second part of the chapter considers the beauty of marine creatures in the tank and the ways in which it was framed, both conceptually and stylistically, through an array of literary strategies, which included emphasis on detail, creative analogies, and the extensive use of poetic language and poetic quotations. Many of these features were common in popular science writing, but aquarium texts strove to adjust their approach to the specificities of tank keeping, while participating in wider debates about the appropriate way to discuss natural phenomena for a broad and non-specialist public.

The Victorian aquarium

Literary discussions on nature, culture and science

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