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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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Introduction: Charles Darwin’s Looking Glass


This book undertakes to introduce a new and important context of Darwinism-inspired popular science, a context which has been rather neglected by literary studies to date. I believe that my tackling of this issue allows literary scholars to gain new perspective in describing contemporary civilization, which turns out to be the product of post-Darwinian ideology, as in popular understanding Darwinism is now the single most important theory explaining the workings of the universe and humanity’s place in it. It is ‘the Theory’, with a capital T, the epitome of science. Thus Darwin is now the mass-culture icon of the ingenious scientist and the founder of modernity in science, an honor which until quite recently had belonged to Albert Einstein. Consequently, Darwin’s life has become a mythic story repeated in his biographies (in the form of both books and films), although the biographical novels and fictive novels on him use historical and biographical detail with varying degrees of fidelity. And indeed, just as with other myths, Darwin’s life has features of a canonical story whose every variant must contain certain well-known anecdote-like moments (among them the Alfred Wallace controversy; the journey of the HMS Beagle; the Galapagos discoveries; and doubts on whether to publish a heretical theory).

Darwin’s life is everybody’s property: writers and filmmakers freely translate it into stories which form a part of contemporary mythology in the meaning defined by Roland Barthes in his seminal Mythologies. One of the essays in my book, “The Voyages...

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