Surprise and Paradox: Darwin's Artful Legacy

George Levine

in Darwin the Writer

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780199608430
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731709 | DOI:
Surprise and Paradox: Darwin's Artful Legacy

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This chapter focuses on one central characteristic of Darwin's writing: his use of paradox. Paradox is usually expressed in his work through what the book calls the double movement of Darwin's prose. Darwin confronts an inexplicable and startling phenomenon, like the instinct of comb-building bees, or the amazing power of the eagle's eye, and expresses awe and wonder at it; he nevertheless proceeds to explain how the phenomenon is compatible with natural selection and can be explained without reference to a world beyond nature. He produces an explanation, usually based on a narrative history of the phenomenon, that makes it both entirely natural, and as startling and wonderful as it was initially. The method is rather like that of the detective novel and gives science the same kind of emotional feel and appeal as great fiction. The chapter goes on to make connections between Darwin's use of paradox and the writings of Conan Doyle and such an apparently dissimilar writer as Walter Pater.

Keywords: paradox; double movement; modernism; narrative; story; Conan Doyle; Walter Pater

Chapter.  12190 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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