Sunday, May 06, 2007

Pg. 69: "Darwin, Literature and Victorian Respectability"

"[P]age 69 is actually the most striking, as well as perhaps the most disquieting, of the entire book," writes Gowan Dawson in today's entry at the Page 69 Test: Darwin, Literature and Victorian Respectability.

About the book, from the publisher:

The success of Charles Darwin's evolutionary theories in mid-nineteenth-century Britain has long been attributed, in part, to his own adherence to strict standards of Victorian respectability, especially in regard to sex. Gowan Dawson contends that the fashioning of such respectability was by no means straightforward or unproblematic, with Darwin and his principal supporters facing surprisingly numerous and enduring accusations of encouraging sexual impropriety. Integrating contextual approaches to the history of science with recent work in literary studies, Dawson sheds new light on the well-known debates over evolution by examining them in relation to the murky underworlds of Victorian pornography, sexual innuendo, unrespectable freethought and artistic sensualism. Such disreputable and generally overlooked aspects of nineteenth-century culture were actually remarkably central to many of these controversies. Focusing particularly on aesthetic literature and new legal definitions of obscenity, Dawson reveals the underlying tensions between Darwin's theories and conventional notions of Victorian respectability.

• An innovative new interpretation of Victorian attitudes to Darwin and his theories

• Uses an interdisciplinary approach and many unpublished sources

• Reveals a surprising new context for the many cartoons depicting Darwin, eight of which are included

Among the advance press for Darwin, Literature and Victorian Respectability:
"Dawson shows in wonderful detail how the very shape of Darwin's theory was affected by his sensitivity to public opinion and by his abiding desire for respectability."
--George Levine, author of Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection and the Re-enchantment of the World
Read an excerpt from Darwin, Literature and Victorian Respectability at the Cambridge University Press website.

Gowan Dawson's other publications include, (co-author) Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical: Reading the Magazine of Nature (Cambridge University Press, 2004), and (co-editor) Culture and Science in the Nineteenth-Century Media (Ashgate, 2004). Learn more about Dr. Dawson's other published scholarship and research activities.

The Page 69 Test: Darwin, Literature and Victorian Respectability.

--Marshal Zeringue