Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What is Patricia Fara reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Patricia Fara, author of Erasmus Darwin: Sex, Science and Serendipity.

Her entry begins:
Can it just be coincidence? The last two books I’ve read were recommended to me by different friends yet appeared within a year of one another – and both are historical novels that reflect on national identity. Part of an answer comes from the first of my authors, JG Farrell, who published The Siege of Krishnapur in1973. ‘I preferred to use the past,’ he explained, because ‘people have already made up their minds what they think about the present. About the past they are more susceptible to clarity of vision.’

Drawing on true events and diary memoirs from the Indian Mutiny of 1857, Farrell explores the gradual disintegration of a stranded British community, starving to death yet determined to stave off attacks by Indian troops they have themselves trained. In these strained circumstances, apparently trivial questions assume an overwhelming importance because – like the notorious pig fat for greasing cartridges that eventually drove subordinated Muslims to rebel – they represent crucially important social divisions. Should an English unmarried mother sleep in the ballroom with the ladies, or should she be relegated to the Eurasian quarters? Should the few remaining items of food be distributed equally, or should they be auctioned off to the richest bidder? Should survivors endanger their own lives by burying fallen friends in the Christian graveyard, or should the bodies be tossed over the walls to be picked over by scavengers already bloated from this unprecedented harvest? As the weeks plod by, some...[read on]
About Erasmus Darwin, from the publisher:
Dr Erasmus Darwin seemed an innocuous Midlands physician, a respectable stalwart of eighteenth-century society. But there was another side to him.

Botanist, inventor, Lunar inventor and popular poet, Darwin was internationally renowned for breathtakingly long poems explaining his theories about sex and science. Yet he become a target for the political classes, the victim of a sustained and vitriolic character assassination by London's most savage satirists.

Intrigued, prize-winning historian Patricia Fara set out to investigate why Darwin had provoked such fierce intellectual and political reaction. Inviting her readers to accompany her, she embarked on what turned out to be a circuitous and serendipitous journey.

Her research led her to discover a man who possessed, according to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 'perhaps a greater range of knowledge than any other man in Europe.' His evolutionary ideas influenced his grandson Charles, were banned by the Vatican, and scandalized his reactionary critics. But for modern readers, he shines out as an impassioned Enlightenment reformer who championed the abolition of slavery, the education of women, and the optimistic ideals of the French Revolution.

As she tracks down her quarry, Patricia Fara uncovers a ferment of dangerous ideas that terrified the establishment, inspired the Romantics, and laid the ground for Victorian battles between faith and science.
Read more about Erasmus Darwin: Sex, Science and Serendipity at the Oxford University Press website.

Writers Read: Patricia Fara.

--Marshal Zeringue