Monday, February 13, 2012


What is this? Where am I? Why can't I breathe through my nose?

In all seriousness, I have done almost nothing but read and fret in the last week. What have I been through? The Origin of Species (amazing), Darwin's Plots (academically interesting), a couple of books on 18th century history (in order to help calm my nerves about the exams at the end of March), a book on Victorian ideas, Lisa Kleypas' Because You're Mine and Eloisa James' This Duchess of Mine. Plus some Matthew Arnold for my dissertation. This upcoming week has more 18th century study, plus Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest and a study of Victorian and modern poetics.

I had a very productive trip to Half Price Books this weekend. My husband and I had headed home for a family wedding (which was incredibly beautiful) and took three giant boxes of books to sell back while we were there (for which we got a grand total of $20. At least that paid for some of the books we bought and got the boxes out of the house. Half Price is a wonderful place, but it does not pay well). But I came away with three Eloisa James novels and a cross stitch book for fun, and several books that I think will come in handy for dissertation and exam studying--a book on general Victorian culture - What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew - the Norton 18th century anthology, a book about Herschel's discoveries, and a book called Apes, Angels and Victorians about Victorian perceptions of evolution, which is not a bad haul.

In the meantime, I'm also waiting for books to come from Amazon that I've ordered for my dissertation as well. I've ordered copies of some of the major Victorian scientific works of the era - Paley's Natural Theology, Chambers' Vestiges of the Natural Creation, and Lyell's Principles of Geology. At the same time, I've also ordered The Kristeva Reader and Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition to help me develop the theoretical underpinnings of my argument.

And yes, I am perfectly aware of how boring all that sounds and what an English nerd I am. In any case, I have a preliminary outline of how I want my first chapter of my dissertation to go, which is surprising in and of itself. Also, I really need to be working more on my prospectus instead, but my first focus really needs to be exams. Naturally, I'm hiding in romance novels. The Kleypas and James novels were pretty good, though I much preferred the Eloisa James novel--for one, it had much more of a seemingly conceivable plot.

No, what I really wanted to talk about today was Darwin. Most people who have talked to me in the last few weeks have heard this spiel already, but The Origin of Species is one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read.

Having been brought up in a semi-evangelical household, I'm not sure what I was expecting when I began Darwin. My parents never pushed creationism on us--certainly not literal creationism, but when you're homeschooled, you get some of it by osmosis through some of your textbooks and I certainly had friends who did take a very literal interpretation of it. In some aspects, I think I expected to open up The Origin of Species and find the devil waiting to pounce. I also think that I expected a very dry, dusty scientific tome that I was going to have to slog through to get anything out of.

I could not have been more wrong on both counts. Darwin was very respectful of the religious aspect. He never denies God, and he's very careful in The Origin of Species not to make any conclusions involving man (that's another book). Darwin was, by no means, an atheist out to eliminate God from the world. He was actually a devoted churchman who was buried in Westminster Abbey. And yes, he realized that there were going to be repercussions from the theory--he discusses them somewhat in the book. But he never dismisses the idea of a Creator. He is moving away from a literal interpretation of Genesis in order to make the geological and cosmological record fit with Christianity.

I've been having a discussion about this with Dr. K, and she says that this is no different than what John Henry Newman was doing. An Anglican turned Catholic who was looking for what he felt was the best, closest way to doing things the way Christ wanted, Newman felt that something had to change in the way that we conceived of the Old Testament. It couldn't be God, because God was perfect from the beginning. So what he came up with was instead the idea that it was not God who had changed, but humanity. Genesis makes sense for a less educated people who could not comprehend the intricacies of the universe. Like Christ does in the New Testament, the Old Testament teaches through stories, metaphor and analogy. Humanity is changing and becoming more advanced and increasing in their understanding. The only difference is that Darwin was coming at it from the scientific view and Newman from a religious view.

And in doing so, Darwin establishes a natural world in some of the most beautiful language. It's almost poetic in spots--how else could it be when you're describing something completely new and wondrous to the world?

Yes, I still realize that I'm an English nerd.

In any case, I feel like we should do with The Origin of Species what I've always felt we should do about other books, like Harry Potter and Twilight -- read it before making a decision about the merit of it. And I think we should do one more thing--take Darwin as he wanted to be taken, not as the a) evil of all mankind or b) the savior of the agnostics/atheists/evolutionists. Darwin falls somewhere in the middle of the creationism/evolution debate, and it's always in the middle where I look for truth.


  1. This doesn't sound boring to me. I did my final paper in 18th Century lit on science in the poems of Mary Leapor, and it was really interesting to learn about how science was perceived, not to mention how it changed society. I'll have to check out the Origin of Species. I always imagined it to be dry reading, too.

    I've seen the romance novels but wasn't sure about getting them, especially the Lisa Kleypas one. Is it worth reading? Have any recommendations for romances that don't involve secret spies for the crown? I've been more in the mood for good, light stories than saving king and country (or the world).

  2. If you're looking for light and fun, especially Regency era, go with Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series. You can also go with the original Cynster novels by Stephanie Laurens--she doesn't get into intrigue until she gets to the Bastion Club and the Black Cobra books.