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Charles Darwin and Victorian Visual Culture

By: Jonathan Smith

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | May 2009 | #181271 | ISBN-13: 9780521135795
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £22.99 $28/€26 approx
Hardback | Jul 2006 | #168239 | ISBN: 0521856906
Out of Print Details

About this book

Although The Origin of Species contained just a single visual illustration, Charles Darwin's other books, from his monograph on barnacles in the early 1850s to his volume on earthworms in 1881, were copiously illustrated by well-known artists and engravers. Jonathan Smith explains how Darwin managed to illustrate the unillustratable - his theories of natural selection - by manipulating and modifying the visual conventions of natural history, using images to support the claims made in his texts.
Moreover, Smith looks outward to analyse the relationships between Darwin's illustrations and Victorian visual culture, especially the late-Victorian debates about aesthetics, and shows how Darwin's evolutionary explanation of beauty, based on his observations of colour and the visual in nature, were a direct challenge to the aesthetics of John Ruskin.

The many illustrations reproduced here enhance this fascinating study of a little known aspect of Darwin's lasting influence on literature, art and culture.

'! a rewarding journey through Darwin's less well-known but richly illustrated works ! the range of illustrations is superb.' Times Literary Supplement 'In the texture of its writing, the meticulousness of its scholarship, and the freshness of its analysis, Jonathan Smith's Charles Darwin and Victorian Visual Culture seems an understated and modest book. But it lives up to the ambition of its title and deserves to be recognised, in addition, as one of the finest (and most careful) cultural studies of Darwin that the growing Darwin industry has produced. This is a major book, one of the very few studies of Darwin that attends to the entire range of his writing. By virtue of what I would like to think of as Darwinian attention to the smallest details, it manages to read Darwin into his culture better than almost any other previous work.' George Levine, Rutgers University


1. Seeing things: Charles Darwin and Victorian visual culture; 2. Darwin's barnacles; 3. Darwin's birds; 4. Darwin's plants; 5. Darwin's faces I; 6. Darwin's faces II; 7. Darwin's worms; Bibliography.

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Jonathan Smith is Professor of English at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

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