What was the influence of Darwinism on English literature during the 19th century?What was the influence of Darwinism on English literature during the 19th century?

1 Answer

akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I think that one of the most profound examples of Darwinian thought impacting artistic and political reality was in how the role of human beings were reconfigured.  On one hand, those who believed in the divine having a role in human creation were dealt a stunning blow by Darwin's scientific theory of evolution.  Similar to Copernicus and Galileo who used science to present a rationalist view that denied human exceptionalism, Darwin was able to confirm to secularists that their beliefs were grounded in rational thought. English critic Thomas Huxley argued as much:

What if the orbit of Darwinism should be a little too circular? What if species should offer residual phænomena, here and there, not explicable by natural selection? Twenty years hence naturalists may be in a position to say whether this is, or is not, the case; but in either event they will owe the author of "The Origin of Species" an immense debt of gratitude.

Yet, the flip side to this is that Darwin's application and thought confirmed precisely that there was little sense of wonderment in human beings.  This helped to enhance the growing feel of modernism and alienation from a configuration or order that professed structure and unity in human consciousness.  Along these lines, Darwinian thought became manipulated by the proponents of Social Darwinism and its misapplication of "survival of the fittest."  In this light, one can see the profound impact of Darwinian thought on English and European literature of the 19th century.