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Victorian Literature and Darwin's Origin of Species

1. Science and Literature

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About this Lecture


In this module, Will explores the link between science and literature, explaining how the two genres were much more closely related in the nineteenth century than there are today; both could be said to be about 'story-telling'. In the case of the Origin of Species, Darwin was telling a story about where man had come from that was radically different from the accepted version found in the Book of Genesis (and hinted at in the Anglican hymn 'All Things Bright and Beautiful').


In this course, Dr Will Abberley (University of Oxford) explores the influence of Charles Darwin's 'Origin of Species' on contemporary works of Victorian literature: 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens, 'The Coming Race' by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' by Robert Louis Stephenson. The course also includes an introduction to the study of science alongside literature.


Will read English at Pembroke College, Oxford, then worked as a print and broadcast journalist before returning to academia and attaining his PhD at the University of Exeter in 2012.

His thesis was entitled Language under the Microscope: Science and Philology in English Fiction, 1850-1914. It explored how popular fiction acted as a testing-ground for nineteenth-century theories of the evolution of language, imagining linguistic pasts and futures. His thesis suggested that such speculative thought experiments in fiction prefigured contemporary interest in instinctive signification and biosemiotics. This research is the subject of a forthcoming book.

He returned to Oxford in 2013 on a three-year research fellowship at Oxford’s English faculty funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The project is entitled Tricks of Nature: Biology, Mimicry and Disguise in Victorian Culture. The project explores concepts of natural deception in the period as natural historians such as Henry Walter Bates and Alfred Russel Wallace reconceptualised nature as a stage of tricks and impostures. He is interested in how literary genre engaged with the development of this scientific theory, such as in the naturalist's journal or scientific travel narrative. He is also examining how theories of natural mimicry influenced popular fiction by writers such as Grant Allen and H. G. Wells.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Abberley, W. (2018, August 15). Victorian Literature and Darwin's Origin of Species - Science and Literature [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Abberley, W. "Victorian Literature and Darwin's Origin of Species – Science and Literature." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,