Arabella Buckley’s Epic: Uniting Evolutionary Epic & Spiritualism to Account for the Evolution of Morals from Mutualism
MetadataShow full item record
In 1859, Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species (The Origin), outlining his theory of evolution through the mechanism of natural selection. With this text, he employed and shaped the genre of evolutionary epic, one of the most significant narrative formats of the latter half of the nineteenth century. Characterized by a progressive synthesis of scientific knowledge covering vast sweeps of time and aimed at readers of variable class, profession, and education, the evolutionary epic became a useful genre for Victorian science writers and popularizers. In his conclusion to The Origin, Darwin laid the foundation of the debate over the narrative of evolutionary epic. The final lines of his text read: "Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved." We encounter Darwin’s epic narrative here: the drama of the “war of nature, from famine and death,” full of competition, allows his mechanism, lawful development through natural selection, to result in the “exalted” higher animals, humans. While Darwin’s diction provides evidence of his markedly progressive view of evolution, less clear are his convictions of theism or materialism and of mutualism or competition in the epic of evolution. Though he added the phrase “breathed by the Creator” to his second edition of The Origin a few weeks after the first edition’s publication, whether this edit reflects a theistic understanding of natural selection or an attempt to appease theistic readers and friends remains ambiguous. Subsequent editions of The Origin retained the edit, and apologists on each side of the evolutionary epic’s theist-materialist debate retained their positions.All popularizers of evolution following Charles Darwin emphasized either the theistic or materialistic version of the evolutionary epic. While most of his contemporaries interpreted his theory of natural selection as evidence of competition ruling nature, science writer and popularizer Arabella Buckley was the first to characterize Darwin’s theory of the evolution of morals as mutualistic rather than materialistic, and she did so through a unique consolidation of evolutionary epic and spiritualism. Barbara T. Gates, a scholar of Victorian women, has pointed out that a commitment to the maternal tradition and social responsibility drove Buckley’s contribution to the evolutionary narrative, culminating in her emphasis on the mutuality of nature. Historian of science popularization Bernard Lightman adds that Buckley’s spiritualistic beliefs directed her popularization through the genre of evolutionary epic, noting that while Gates provides a detailed account of Buckley’s narrative techniques and goals, her exclusion of Buckley’s religion restricts her analysis. In light of the conversation between these scholars, I aim to demonstrate that the significance of Buckley’s distinctive, mutualistic addition to the debate on the evolution of morals lies in her theory of traducianism, neatly unifying evolutionary epic, mutualism, and spiritualism.
The following license files are associated with this item: