Monday, January 22, 2007

The Darwin Conspiracy

I promised Katja to post the name of the book that I am currently reading. The fictional book is called The Darwin Conspiracy by John Darnton. This book covers the time between Charles Darwin's famous travels aboard the Beagle and the publication of The Origin of Species. The author has created an interesting "flashback" between Darwin's voyages and a modern-day researcher who becomes a student of Darwin's biography. Later in the book, a third perspective is added: that of Lizzie (sometimes called "Bessie") Darwin, the mysterious younger daughter of Charles Darwin. Though there is little known about her, the author implies that what is known does not paint Lizzie in the best of pictures. Lizzie has previously been suspected as being an outcast, almost even mentally "slow." The perspective of Lizzie Darwin later proves to be one of an intelligent, mysterious woman. She was the only of Darwin's three children not to wed- for reasons that the book later divulges. She was a free-thinker and a very opinionated and curious young lady. She later develops a strong friendship with George Eliot and writes to the author frequently. Mr. Darwin and his wife agree that, for reasons that will again be covered in the book, Lizzie should remain a permanent resident of Down House, the family's homestead. Lizzie takes on her duty without complaint, finding solace in the slow routine that has at once become her prison and her freedom.

In reading what little history I have about Emily Dickinson, I am startled by the similarities between the fictional(?) character of Elizabeth Darwin and the famed poet Emily Dickinson. Even their initials are the same. :) Darwin was confined to live with her parents for the entirety of her adult life and found much solace in writing. She corresponded frequently with George Eliot and was considered to be a "modern" thinker- too advanced for a woman of her day and age. I find that these and other similarities between the two women a little too close- there must be some inspiration that came from the author's reading of Emily Dickinson.

I do hope that you get the chance to read the book- I am finding it very entertaining. I would recommend it, at least to compare the personalities and lives of the two women.


Scott said...

There's a similar book in American Lit called "Ahab's Wife" -- which retells the Moby Dick story from a womans' perspective.

Katja said...

Hi Chelsea,
Thanks for letting me (and others) know about that book.