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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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Annie Dillard and Kurt Vonnegut on the Galapagos Archipelago as the Archetypal Darwinian Setting


The turn of the millennium debate concerning the relationship between the sciences and the humanities is one of the most exhilarating issues in the contemporary intellectual life of the West. Ever since Edward O. Wilson advocated ‘consilience’ among all the branches of learning in the last decades of the 20th century, neo-Darwinist scholars have dreamed of charting an integrated body of knowledge extending from the theories of narratology and aesthetics all the way to theories explaining how atomic particles and photons behave. The only way for researching such a vast territory is within the Darwinian paradigm of evolutionary studies. Darwin’s theory fascinates numerous scholars and writers precisely because of its universality: it brings an enormously large range of phenomena (from the scope of psychology, geology, biology, anthropology, and many other branches of science) within the simple compass of casual explanation.

The theory of adaptation by means of natural selection is crucial for the contemporary worldview and yet it stirs a lot of controversies. In Britain, the homeland of both Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins, novelists reference the theory of evolution and describe 19th-century Darwinian naturalists in order to discuss such issues as religion, rationalism, and human nature. Antonia Byatt in Angels and Insects depicts the mid-Victorian spiritual crisis evoked by the publication of On the Origin of Species; Graham Swift in Ever After focuses on the loss of faith of the first readers of Darwin’s book; Julian Barnes in Before She Met Me applies evolutionary psychology...

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