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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 Motif of Human Evolution in Selected Fiction and Non-Fiction


Popular culture nowadays is very much fascinated by ‘pre-history’: with the help of advanced computer techniques which allow us to make the non-existent visible on screen, life-like simulacra of pre-human apes or charging T-Rexes are produced and distributed in millions of copies. Recently, producers of educational TV shows, especially nature films devoted to evolution, often decide to apply similar special effects. Thus, a new film genre has been created which apparently belongs to non-fiction because of the way it refers to real-life scientific discoveries and yet freely makes use of numerous visual clichés drawn from works of fiction.

Two films produced by France 3 and the Discovery Channel and directed by Jacques Malaterre, A Species Odyssey (2003) and Homo Sapiens (2005), blend fiction and non-fiction, thereby creating a picture of human evolution which is both in accordance with textbooks of anthropology and simple to grasp by its similarity to the scenarios we already know from mass culture. Based on the example of Malaterre’s films, the aim of this chapter is to show how science and entertainment coexist on screen and, additionally, how anthropologists inspire fiction writers who are in turn themselves inspired by novels and films. In order to achieve this I am going to precede my analysis of the films by providing some suitable context: on the one hand literary texts concerned with human evolution by H.G. Wells and William Golding, on the other scientific essays by Charles Darwin, Misia Landau, Roger Lewin, and...

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