The Descent of Love: Darwin and the Theory of Sexual Selection in American Fiction, 1871-1926
Upon its publication in 1871, Charles Darwin's The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex sent shock waves through the scientific community and the public at large. In an original and persuasive study, Bert Bender demonstrates that it is this treatise, rather than any of Darwin's earlier works, that provoked the most immediate and vigorous response from American fiction writers. These authors embraced and incorporated Darwin's theories, insights, and language, creating an increasingly dark and violent view of sexual love in American realist literature.
In The Descent of Love, Bender carefully rereads the works of William Dean Howells, Henry James, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Sarah Orne Jewett, Kate Chopin, Harold Frederic, Charles W. Chesnutt, Edith Wharton, and Ernest Hemingway, teasing from them a startling but utterly convincing preoccupation with questions of sexual selection. Competing for readership as novelists who best grasped the "real" nature of human love, these writers also participated in a heated social debate over racial and sexual differences and the nature of sex itself. Influenced more by The Descent of Man than by the Origin of Species, Bender's novelists built upon Darwin's anthropological and zoological materials to anatomize their characters' courtship behavior, returning consistently to concerns with physical beauty, natural dominance, and the power to select a mate.
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analysis animal attractive Awakening Bartley Bartley's Basil beauty biological Brett career Celia chapter Chauncey Wright Chesnutt civilized courtship novels Cressage Darwin Darwin's theory Darwinian Descent discussion Edith Edith Wharton Edna Edna's emotions emphasizes evolution evolutionary example explains Expression Farrell female's fiction Frederic Frederic's genius genteel society Harold Frederic Hemingway Hemingway's Henry James Howells Howells's human ideal imagination instinct interest Isabel Jake James's Jewett Kate Chopin Lady law of battle literary realism lovers Lubbock Madonna male male's marriage mind Modern Instance natural history natural selection novelists Origin of Species Osmond passion Phelps Plowden portrait primitive problem psychology question race racial reference remarks Rena Roderick Hudson scene seems sense sexual reality Sexual Science sexual selection social social Darwinism Spencer story struggle suggests Sun Also Rises theory of sexual Theron Thorpe Thorpe's thought tion Verena Wedding Journey Wharton William woman women writers