The Blagger's Guide to: The Royal Society

The cultural event where science and literature converge

The 25th annual Royal Society Young People's Book Prize will be awarded this Thursday. This year's shortlist comprises: How the Weather Works, by Christiane Dorion, illustrated by Beverley Young (Templar); Out of This World: All the Cool Bits About Space, by Clive Gifford (Buster Books); Plagues, Pox and Pestilence, by Richard Platt, illustrated by John Kelly (Kingfisher); Science Experiments, by Robert Winston and Ian Graham (Dorling Kindersley); See Inside Inventions: An Usborne Flap Book, by Alex Frith, illustrated by Colin King (Usborne); and The Magic of Reality, by Richard Dawkins, illustrated by Dave McKean (Bantam). The Young People's Book Prize is for books aimed at readers up to 14. The Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books (for adults) will be awarded on 26 November.

The Royal Society, founded in 1660, has an illustrious history in both literature and science, and the prizes have helped to continue that: Margaret Drabble's The Sea Lady was inspired by her experience of chairing the judging panel in 2003. The book opens with a first-person narrative from the chair of a natural history book prize speaking at the award event.

The Royal Society's literary connections emerged soon after its founding, although not always to the organisation's advantage. When Thomas Shadwell's play The Virtuoso was first performed in 1676, audiences recognised that the character of Sir Nicholas Gimcrack was based upon Robert Hooke, the Royal Society's first paid experimental scientist. "Damned dogs ... People almost pointed," the mortified philosopher noted.

Shadwell and his fellow satirist Jonathan Swift found rich pickings in the society's published accounts of experiments. The organisation's materialistic means of progressing knowledge was lampooned mercilessly in Gulliver's Travels, in which the Academy of Laputa (aka the Royal Society) attempts to extract sunshine from cucumbers.

The later 18th century saw several literary figures becoming fellows of the Royal Society themselves, notably the geologist Rudolf Erich Raspe, better known for the tall tales told by his fictitious Baron Munchausen. Regrettably, Raspe proved just as unreliable as his creation and was kicked out of the society once it was discovered that he had embezzled from the collections of his former employer. The novelist John Cleland presented books to the Royal Society – alas, not the racy Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, popularly known as Fanny Hill, but his treatises on the Celtic languages.

Alfred Tennyson was also a fellow of the Royal Society. He presented "In Memoriam" to the society's librarian, by whose account Tennyson would climb out of the Royal Society library window to smoke his pipe on the roof.

Several of H G Wells' literary creations are fictional fellows of the Royal Society, most notably the Time Traveller in his 1895 book, The Time Machine. Following Wells, versions of the Royal Society and its fellows have prospered in science fiction, historical novels and alternative histories. Well-known examples are Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy, featuring the psychiatric work of W H R Rivers with Siegfried Sassoon and others; Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle, reimagining Samuel Pepys, Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin; and Susan Sontag's The Volcano Lover, telling the story of Sir William Hamilton.

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders