This review-article discusses Ian Duncan's groundbreaking book, which examines nineteenth-century narrative fiction in the light of natural science's approach to the origins of the human species and its place in the world. As Duncan explains, after Linneus and Buffon systematically classified all living species in the eighteenth century, Lamarck and Darwin focused on the specific processes involved in the biological transformation, diversification, and evolution of these species. Similarly, while David Hume and Immanuel Kant described what they assumed to be universal features of humanity, Herder and Hegel's writings emphasized the diversity of human cultures and the progressive movement of history. As Duncan shows, nineteenth-century authors looked beyond general human qualities in literature as well, turning their attention to the striking differences between historical periods, to the multiple links, harmonious or monstrous, between human beings and the organization of society, and to the impact of robust, independent individuals on societal development. Illuminating analyses of novels by Walter Scott, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot show the intimate convergence between nineteenth-century biological and historical theories of evolution and the rise of the realist novel.


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pp. 114-121
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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