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Darwin in the Literary World

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Abstract

Within months of Darwin’s publication of the Origin of Species, novelists, poets and artists began to turn Darwin’s ideas into art. That they have continued to do so up to the present day is a testimony to the imaginative reach of Darwin’s ideas as well as to the extent to which they transformed ways of seeing. Darwinism can be seen running through some of the late nineteenth century’s most richly imaginative prose and poetry including Kingsley’s The Water Babies, Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, H.G. Wells’ Island of Dr Moreau and Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. But where nineteenth-century writers may have seen hybrid monsters, degeneration and extinction, Darwinism has come to have new meanings for each subsequent generation of writers and artists. Novelist and academic Rebecca Stott will show this perpetual re-making and ‘making new’ of Darwin’s ideas by taking a literary journey through late nineteenth-century fiction, to the poetry of Thomas Hardy, Ted Hughes and Ruth Padel and to the contemporary novels of Ian McEwan and A.S. Byatt to show that writers have not just re-used Darwin’s ideas but have translated, adapted and extended them in fascinating ways.

Biography

Rebecca Stott is Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich where she teaches both creative writing and nineteenth-century literature. As an academic she is the author of a number of books and articles about nineteenth-century poets such as Tennyson (1996) and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (2003), as well as books on the cross-fertilisations of literature and science such as The Fabrication of the Late Nineteenth-Century Femme Fatale (1996) and Oyster (2003). In 2003 she published Darwin and the Barnacle (Faber, 2003) a novelistic study of the eight years Darwin spent dissecting barnacles which received considerable acclaim and reached a wide readership. As a novelist she is the author of Ghostwalk (2003), a historical thriller and ghost story about Isaac Newton’s alchemy set in seventeenth-century Cambridge, which was shortlisted for two literary awards and has been translated into fifteen different languages including Mandarin and Russian. Her second novel, The Coral Thief (2009), a love story set in post-Napoleonic Paris in which a group Lamarkian savants stage an audacious theft from a museum in the Jardin des Plantes in 1815, will be published in the summer of 2009. Her next academic book, Speculators: Poets and Philosophers of Evolution, a study of the migration of evolutionary ideas across Europe pre-Darwin, will be published in 2010 by Chicago University Press.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Lecture Series series.

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