King Edward VII Professor of English Literature and President of Clare Hall (ret.), University of Cambridge
Darwin was the most pacific of men yet his theories caused scandal. Many of his contemporaries experienced profound disturbance, and sometimes disgust, in the face of his theories. What was particularly repellent to those who resisted? And what can those debates tell us about responses now? How did Darwin's emphasis on kinship across species impact on the idea of the family? What happens when memory loses its significance for natural history? Most scandals are short-lived: why do Darwin's theories still cause disquiet, and more than disquiet for some? This lecture will draw on reviews, letters, Punch cartoons, and poetry to explore the reactions of diverse nineteenth century people to the changed world that Darwin's ideas proposed. In particular, I shall explore the response of some women writers, Constance Naden, Mathilde Blind, May Kendall, and Emily Pfeiffer, who invoked satire and tragedy as means of questioning the human position in the wake of Darwin.