Charles Darwin: a Victorian Mythmaker, by A.N. Wilson

A. N. Wilson
(
John Murray, 7 September 2017)

Editor’s presentation

Charles Darwin: the man who discovered evolution? The man who killed off God? Or a flawed man of his age, part genius, part ruthless careerist who would not acknowledge his debts to other thinkers?

In this bold new life – the first single volume biography in twenty-five years – A. N. Wilson, the acclaimed author of The Victorians and God’s Funeral, goes in search of the celebrated but contradictory figure Charles Darwin.

Darwin was described by his friend and champion, Thomas Huxley, as a ‘symbol’. But what did he symbolize? In Wilson’s portrait, both sympathetic and critical, Darwin was two men. On the one hand, he was a naturalist of genius, a patient and precise collector and curator who greatly expanded the possibilities of taxonomy and geology. On the other hand, Darwin, a seemingly diffident man who appeared gentle and even lazy, hid a burning ambition to be a universal genius. He longed to have a theory which explained everything.

But was Darwin’s 1859 master work, On the Origin of Species, really what it seemed, a work about natural history? Or was it in fact a consolation myth for the Victorian middle classes, reassuring them that the selfishness and indifference to the poor were part of nature’s grand plan?

Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker is a radical reappraisal of one of the great Victorians, a book which isn’t afraid to challenge the Darwinian orthodoxy while bringing us closer to the man, his revolutionary idea and the wider Victorian age.

Biographical Notes

A. N. Wilson was born in North Staffordshire, and taught literature for seven years at New College Oxford, where he won the Chancellor’s English Essay Prize and the Ellerton Prize. He is the author of over twenty novels, and as many works of non-fiction. His biography of Tolstoy won the Whitbread Prize in 1988. His biography of Queen Victoria was published to critical acclaim. He is also the author of The Victorians and of God’s Funeral, an account of how the Victorians lost their faith. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and a Member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He lives in London, and is the father of three daughters.

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