John Gray

Evolving Ideas

Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker

By

John Murray 438pp £25 order from our bookshop

‘A biography of Darwin must, chiefly, be the biography of an idea.’ A N Wilson’s observation, made nearly a third of the way through this longish work, may be well founded. But it is belied by the content of his book, which abounds in incidental detail about Darwin and his life without offering any clear statement of the idea of natural selection – the core of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Many readers will learn facts about Darwin they did not previously know. I had no idea that he had a makeshift privy built behind a curtain in his study in order to cope with his chronic flatulence, or that (assisted by his nephew Frank Darwin) he dealt with letters from admiring correspondents in what Wilson describes as a ‘lavatorial fug’. Some readers may be interested to learn of Darwin’s place in the changing class hierarchies of Victorian England, a theme to which Wilson returns again and again.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'One of the reasons for its longevity is that it has virtually nothing to say about science and technology at all,… ,
    • 'The characters in many of these stories are trapped in the obsessive present tense of their own thoughts; in the m… ,
    • 'Libraries, for much of their existence, have embodied in microcosm many of the characteristics of the totalitarian… ,
    • 'Moss and Cynthia buy several properties through which to launder their ill-gotten gains, take lots of drugs, have… ,
    • 'Never mind the imperial cult. This is the cult of Boris. What happened to Rome?' From the LR archive:… ,
    • Thirty-two years ago this month, we published Muriel Spark's short story, 'A Playhouse Called Remarkable' Read it… ,
    • Time travel, bicycles and white horses populate @WomackPhilip's roundup of children's books by @marcussedgwick,… ,