Origins and Thoughts, and Original Thoughts

January 19, 2010 at 5:44 am (JARS, Reviews, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

My thoughts on Irving Stone’s The Origin so far… (I’m on Book Ten)

Irving Stone presents a very cheerful, almost carefree, narrative of Darwin’s life. Friendships are dwelt upon, discoveries are glorified, and opposition breezed over. Even the death of Charles and Emma’s third child is skipped over with a mere page and a half of detail.

Despite being an enjoyable novel, its astonishing how much humanity is lacking in the description – it has the feel of a 1950’s family sitcom, Leave It to Beaver meets the Darwin family in Victorian England.

I like Irving Stone’s version of things, however. It gives a detailed time line of publications and events. Its a good source to use as an introduction to the study of evolution: names, dates, and important essays, journals and other writings are handed to you chronologically on a silver platter so that you can jot them down and do additional research afterward.

The book is quite clever, actually, sidestepping every controversy and smiling noncommittally.

“They established a routine in which everyone fitted harmoniously,” (from book nine: the Whole Life) seems to be the theme of the book, rather than the development of the theory of evolution. It is full of lines like: “The Manuscript on Volcanic Islands moved along felicitously.” Even through his many illnesses and the death of his two daughters, Charles Darwin seems to have led a very charmed life.

I discussed all this with a member the physical JARS book club, and she pointed out something important that I failed to notice: this is exactly the way a man of the Victorian Age would want his biography written. The Victorian era was a time when the upper class mastered the art of smiling and pretending everything was fine, introducing what my friend described as “that very British attitude of ‘Get Over It and Move On.’ ”

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