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Text in the Natural World

Topics in the Evolutionary Theory of Literature


Laurence A. Gregorio

The study of literature has expanded to include an evolutionary perspective. Its premise is that the literary text and literature as an overarching institution came into existence as a product of the same evolutionary process that gave rise to the human species. In this view, literature is an evolutionary adaptation that functions as any other adaptation does, as a means of enhancing survivability and also promoting benefits for the individual and society. Text in the Natural World is an introduction to the theory and a survey of topics pertinent to the evolutionary view of literature. After a polemical, prefatory chapter and an overview of the pertinent aspects of evolutionary theory itself, the book examines integral building blocks of literature and literary expression as effects of evolutionary development. This includes chapters on moral sense, symbolic thought, literary aesthetics in general, literary ontology, the broad topic of form, function and device in literature, a last theoretical chapter on narrative, and a chapter on literary themes. The concluding chapter builds on the preceding one as an illustration of evolutionary thematic study in practice, in a study of the fauna in the fiction of Maupassant. This text is designed to be of interest to those who read and think about things literary, as well as to those who have interest in the extension of Darwin’s great idea across the horizon of human culture. It tries to bridge the gulf that has separated the humanities from the sciences, and would be a helpful text for courses taught in both literary theory and interdisciplinary approaches to literature and philosophy.

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Chapter 10. Thematic Study: The Fauna in Maupassant’s Fiction, or A Page from Darwin’s Book


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This chapter builds on the preceding one, giving an illustration of the sort of thematic literary research outlined there. It presents a study of the representation of animal life in the works of Guy de Maupassant and how that depiction draws on evolutionary thought. There is a prefatory overview of the reception Darwin’s theory received in France from the first translation of Origin of Species and the influence the theory had on French thought and letters up to Maupassant’s death in 1893.

(Note: All references to Maupassant’s works are to the Pléiade editions, Contes et nouvelles I, Contes et nouvelles II, and Romans. For the sake of concision and clarity, references to these volumes will appear in the endnotes with the following abbreviations respectively: CN1, CN2 and R. Translations from the French are this author’s.)

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