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Charles Darwin’s Looking Glass

The Theory of Evolution and the Life of its Author in Contemporary British Fiction and Non-Fiction


Dominika Oramus

The book offers a comparative analysis of diverse Darwinism-inspired discourses such as post-modern novels, science fiction, popular science and nature films. Analysing the uses of the evolutionary discourse in recent literature and films, the study demonstrates how natural science influences the contemporary humanities and how literary conventions are used to make scientific and popular-science texts intelligible and attractive. Charles Darwin’s Looking Glass shows how and why today’s culture gazes upon the myth of Darwin, his theory, and his life in order to find its own reflection.
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The Voyages of Charles Darwin in Recent Fiction and Non-Fiction


In the popular space comedy A User’s Guide to the Galaxy the protagonist dressed up as Dr. Livingstone meets his future girlfriend at a fancy-dress party where everybody wears Victorian costumes. With a long white beard and a toy dog in her hands the girl is supposed to look like Charles Darwin, but much to her dismay people take her for Santa Claus. “I thought the beagle was a giveaway,” she complains, pointing at her toy dog.

This movie, a standard product of contemporary mass culture, makes use of easily recognizable iconic associations, thus proving that in popular imagination the name ‘Darwin’ brings about the likeness of a stern looking bearded man and a beagle, the latter denoting of course the name of the ship on which Darwin traveled around the world and got his grand idea for the theory of evolution.

This chapter attempts to examine how the story of the voyage Darwin undertook in the 1830s entered popular culture about 150 years later, thereby becoming for late 20th-century readers and film-goers one of the icons of Victorian times. Numerous re-writings of this story have reinforced the following sets of associations: ‘Darwin and the Beagle’; ‘Darwin and the Galapagos’; ‘Darwin and his finches’ along with many others. In order to show how this happened I am going to analyze the motif of the Beagle voyage as described in three books published in the second half of the 20th century: Alan Moorehead’s Darwin and...

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