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A Darwinian Reading Of Great Expectations

873 words - 4 pages

A Darwinian Reading of Great Expectations
Goldie Morgentaler, assistant professor of English at the University of Lethbridge, compares Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations with Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, suggesting that a Darwinian influence can be found within its text. Morgentaler argues her point using the time the two books were written and the sudden disregard of heredity as a formative influence of human identity in Dickens’s writing. Morgentaler’s arguments are somewhat weak in evidence but I agree that it probably isn’t a coincidence that Dickens’s writing on this subject matter changed around the same time as Darwin’s book was published. I will engage some of ...view middle of the document...

Morgentaler says that Darwin’s book was so popular that everyone had read it. In a review of The Origin, George Henry Lewes, writing in Cornhill, writes, “Darwin’s book is in everybody’s hands” (quoted in Morgentaler, 708). With it being “in everybody’s hands” there is little doubt that Dickens had not heard about or even talked with others about this very controversial topic and book. Another piece of strong evidence was in Dickens’s journal, All the Year Round, where there were anonymous pieces published with Darwinian themes. Another strong piece of evidence was that a copy of Darwin’s book was found in Dickens’s library after his death (709). While all of this may be coincidence and circumstantial, Morgentaler did give stronger textual evidence for her argument.
There are concepts that have broad evolutionary implications that Morgentaler says gives Great Expectations reasons for having a Darwinian reading. Morgentaler says, “…The idea of the primitive or low and its relationship to ‘civilized’ society; the idea of adaptation, of what is fit and not fit; and, finally, the conception of time as moving in one direction only—into the future—rather than being a reanimation of the past” (712). In the case of Pip and Magwitch money has replaced hereditary DNA. According to Morgentaler, “In this father-son relationship, money substitutes for semen as the stuff out of which life is created” (712). It was not hereditary that made Pip a gentleman, but a convict with money. The same can be said of Estella and Miss Havisham—Estella became what her adopted mother trained her to be. It has turned into a nature vs....

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