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America's Darwin

Darwinian Theory and U.S. Culture

Tina Gianquitto

Publication Year: 2014

While much has been written about the impact of Darwin’s theories on U.S. culture, and countless scholarly collections have been devoted to the science of evolution, few have addressed the specific details of Darwin’s theories as a cultural force affecting U.S. writers. America’s Darwin fills this gap and features a range of critical approaches that examine U.S. textual responses to Darwin’s works.

The scholars in this collection represent a range of disciplines—literature, history of science, women’s studies, geology, biology, entomology, and anthropology. All pay close attention to the specific forms that Darwinian evolution took in the United States, engaging not only with Darwin’s most famous works, such as On the Origin of Species, but also with less familiar works, such as The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

Each contributor considers distinctive social, cultural, and intellectual conditions that affected the reception and dissemination of evolutionary thought, from before the publication of On the Origin of Species to the early years of the twenty-first century. These essays engage with the specific details and language of a wide selection of Darwin’s texts, treating his writings as primary sources essential to comprehending the impact of Darwinian language on American writers and thinkers. This careful engagement with the texts of evolution enables us to see the broad points of its acceptance and adoption in the American scene; this approach also highlights the ways in which writers, reformers, and others reconfigured Darwinian language to suit their individual purposes.

America’s Darwin demonstrates the many ways in which writers and others fit themselves to a narrative of evolution whose dominant motifs are contingency and uncertainty. Collectively, the authors make the compelling case that the interpretation of evolutionary theory in the U.S. has always shifted in relation to prevailing cultural anxieties.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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Introduction: Textual Responses to Darwinian Theory in the U.S. Scene

Tina Gianquitto, Lydia Fisher

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pp. 1-16

On June 5, 1861, shortly after the start of the Civil War, Charles Darwin wrote a letter to his American friend the Harvard botanist Asa Gray. In its outline, the letter is in many ways typical of Darwin’s correspondence: it opens with some mention of work and overwork, continues to discuss reviews and responses to On the Origin of Species, ...

Part I: American Spiritual, Aesthetic, and Intellectual Currents

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Theorizing Uncertainty: Charles Darwin and William James on Emotion

Gregory Eiselein

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pp. 19-39

The history of Darwin’s reception in the United States has tended to focus on the religious reaction to evolution, the influence of Social Darwinism on American culture, and “the non-Darwinian revolution” in science.1 It is true, moreover, that nineteenth-century American culture was more often engaged with the imagined implications of his ideas than with the logic or specifics of his theory. ...

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“The Long Road”: John Burroughs and Charles Darwin, 1862–1921

Jeff Walker

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pp. 40-58

John Burroughs’s final thoughts on Darwin (published posthumously in 1921) encapsulate his long struggle with Darwin and his ideas: “The study of Darwin’s works begets such an affection for the man, for the elements of character displayed on every page, that one is slow in convincing one’s self that anything is wrong with his theories. ...

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Darwin and the Prairie Origins of American Entomology: Benjamin D. Walsh, Pioneer Visionary

Carol Anelli

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pp. 59-85

An Englishman and contemporary of Charles Darwin at Cambridge University, Benjamin Dann Walsh (1808–69) left his life as a scholar of ancient Greek language and literature and emigrated to the United States in 1838, settling in the backwoods prairie in the new state of Illinois. ...

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Darwin’s Year and Melville’s “New Ancient of Days”

Karen Lentz Madison, R. D. Madison

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pp. 86-103

Charles Darwin was ten years Herman Melville’s senior. The American author’s fascination with natural history permeates his greatest work, Moby-Dick, but also reveals itself in a lifelong interest in geology and its implications in an increasingly doubtful nineteenth century. Familiar with Darwin’s writing from his twenties, Melville never escaped the attractions and repulsions of Lyellian time and Darwinian evolution. ...

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Darwinism and the “Stored Beauty” of Culture in Edith Wharton’s Writing

Paul Ohler

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pp. 104-126

Edith Wharton’s (1862–1937) construction in her fiction of a relationship between biological systems and human cultural systems was a response to ideas about evolutionary theory she encountered in the work of Charles Darwin and other major figures of the natural sciences. ...

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“A World Which Is Not All In, and Never Will Be”: Darwinism, Pragmatist Thinking, and Modernist Poetry

Heike Schaefer

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pp. 127-148

The reception of Darwinism has proven to be a treasure trove for anyone interested in the dynamics of exchange between the natural sciences and literary culture. Darwinism not only instigated a paradigm shift in the natural sciences, but also has exerted a tremendous influence on the literary imagination since it began to migrate from its scientific habitat to other cultural areas. ...

Part II: Progress and Degeneration, Crisis and Reform

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Sexual Selection and the Economics of Marriage: “Female Choice” in the Writings of Edward Bellamy and Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Kimberly A. Hamlin

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pp. 151-180

To most modern Americans, evolution is synonymous with “natural selection,” the evolutionary mechanism that Charles Darwin introduced in On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859). To most nineteenth-century Americans, however, “evolution” had more nuanced meanings. ...

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American Reform Darwinism Meets Russian Mutual Aid: Utopian Feminism in Mary Bradley Lane’s Mizora

Lydia Fisher

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pp. 181-206

First published in four installments in the Cincinnati Commercial in 1880–81, and then reissued in book form in 1889, Mary Bradley Lane’s Mizora is a groundbreaking feminist utopia that helps us to understand the ubiquity and various iterations of Darwin’s influence in the United States in the final decades of the nineteenth century. ...

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The Loud Echo of a “Far-Distant Past”: Darwin, Norris, and the Clarity of Anger

Melanie Dawson

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pp. 207-234

In his 1872 study The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Charles Darwin devotes a lengthy chapter to the blush, a bodily response he describes as “the most peculiar and the most human of all expressions.”1 This observation, as Lucy Hartley notes, was oriented to the ways in which “expressions” are tied to “specific emotional states.”2 ...

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Criminal Botany: Progress, Degeneration, and Darwin’s Insectivorous Plants

Tina Gianquitto

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pp. 235-262

The three epigraphs—the first from British poet-botanist Erasmus Darwin, the second from his grandson Charles Darwin, and the third from the American natural history writer J. G. Hunt—trace the singular trajectory of the humble marsh plant, Drosera rotundifolia (the common sundew), from flower to floral carnivore, from queen to criminal. ...

Part III: The Limits of Species

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Bodies, Words, and Works: Charles Darwin and Lewis Henry Morgan on Human-Animal Relations

Gillian Feeley-Harnik

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pp. 265-301

While Darwin argued in On the Origin of Species (1859) that “descent is the hidden bond of connection,” linking all the earth’s creatures, extinct and living, the American lawyer-ethnologist Lewis Henry Morgan argued in Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family (1871) that “systems of relationship” link all “the great families of mankind,” ...

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“The Power of Choice”: Darwinian Concepts of Animal Mind in Jack London’s Dog Stories

Lilian Carswell

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pp. 302-332

Scholars have long recognized the importance of Charles Darwin to Jack London’s intellectual development.1 London read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, while still a teenager; studied Darwin, Herbert Spencer, and Thomas Henry Huxley during his semester at the University of California, Berkeley; and brought a copy of the Origin of Species with him to the Yukon.2 ...

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T. C. Boyle’s Neoevolutionary Queer Ecologies: Questioning Species in “Descent of Man” and “Dogology”

Nicole M. Merola

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pp. 333-359

Charles Darwin’s work on species, including his discussions of the origin of species, the mutability of organisms over geological time scales, the mechanisms of natural and sexual selection, the importance of an organism’s relationship to its environment, physical and mental homologies across species boundaries, common descent, and the undirected nature of evolutionary processes, ...

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Ape Meets Primatologist: Post-Darwinian Interspecies Romances

Virginia Richter

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pp. 360-388

The Scopes Trial that took place in 1925 at Dayton, Tennessee, has remained to this day one of the defining events in the positioning of Darwinism on the American scene. Highly publicized at the time, and inscribed in popular cultural memory through the film Inherit the Wind (1960), the Scopes trial stages the U.S. encounter with Darwinism as a pervasive “image of confrontation between evolutionism and religion,”1 ...


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pp. 389-392


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pp. 393-401

E-ISBN-13: 9780820346908
E-ISBN-10: 082034690X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820344485

Page Count: 400
Illustrations: 2 b&w photos, 2 maps, 4 figures
Publication Year: 2014