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Darwin, Literature and Victorian Respectability

Series: Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture

By: Gowan Dawson (Author)

300 pages, 8 b/w illustrations

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | Feb 2010 | #229563 | ISBN-13: 9780521128858
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £22.99 $28/€26 approx
Hardback | Apr 2007 | #229564 | ISBN-13: 9780521872492
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £69.99 $86/€79 approx

About this book

The success of Charles Darwin's evolutionary theories in mid-nineteenth-century Britain has long been attributed, in part, to his own adherence to strict standards of Victorian respectability, especially in regard to sex. Gowan Dawson contends that the fashioning of such respectability was by no means straightforward or unproblematic, with Darwin and his principal supporters facing surprisingly numerous and enduring accusations of encouraging sexual impropriety. Integrating contextual approaches to the history of science with work in literary studies, Dawson sheds light on the well-known debates over evolution by examining them in relation to the murky underworlds of Victorian pornography, sexual innuendo, unrespectable freethought and artistic sensualism. Such disreputable and generally overlooked aspects of nineteenth-century culture were actually remarkably central to many of these controversies. Focusing particularly on aesthetic literature and legal definitions of obscenity, Dawson reveals the underlying tensions between Darwin's theories and conventional notions of Victorian respectability.

"[...] a strikingly original, probing study that should command the attention and respect of scholars of Darwin and of Victorian scientific culture in general."
--  Frank M. Turner, Journal of BJHS


1. Introduction: Darwinian science and Victorian respectability
2. Charles Darwin, Algernon Charles Swinburne and sexualised responses to evolution
3. John Tyndall, Walter Pater and the nineteenth-century revival of paganism
4. Darwinism, Victorian freethought and the Obscene Publications Act
5. The refashioning of William Kingdon Clifford's posthumous reputation
6. T. H. Huxley, Henry Maudsley and the pathologisation of aestheticism


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Gowan Dawson is Lecturer in Victorian Literature at the University of Leicester.

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