Term of Award
Master's of Arts in English
Document Type and Release Option
Thesis (open access)
Department of Literature and Philosophy
John T. Lloyd
Committee Member 1
Douglass H. Thomson
Committee Member 2
Timothy D. Whelan
Charles Darwin's fame and success as a scientist were undoubtedly based on the reception of the evolutionary paradigm he articulated in Origin of Species. Although many of Darwin's ideas were only ideas at the time of Origin's publication, they indubitably fostered the widespread acceptance of the evolutionary worldview among scientists and non-scientists. And this phenomenon took place in a relatively short period of time. The fact that much of Darwin's evolutionary thesis was well received and yet was clearly, and by his own admission, hypothetical, may seem to be a curious development. This thesis project will center on two factors that contributed to Origin's success: Darwin's persuasive and argumentative skills and his appropriation of romantic literary devices. Along with Darwin's rhetoric, I will examine his use of conventional romanticist poetic discourse and typology within an overarching systematic mythology. In short, I will demonstrate that Darwin's success as a scientist was contingent upon his rhetorical skills and, to some degree, his cultivation of romantic themes, prose, and myth.
In order to better understand the author and his audience, I will introduce my argument by exploring some background information on Darwin and the currents of thought in the Victorian Era. I will also analyze Darwin's copiously documented correspondence, reflect upon his pre-Origin notes, and highlight other biographical material. Subsequently, I will demonstrate that 1) Darwin was deeply committed to his view but was unable to demonstrate it in a limited time frame or substantiate it with empirical evidence, 2) Darwin's presentation in Origin was self-consciously and strategically designed to subvert the creationist paradigm that already was under attack during his era, and 3) It was necessary for Darwin to resort to various and sundry rhetorical and literary strategies in order for this presentation to be effective. As a result, I will present my view of Origin as much more an exercise in rhetoric, literary innovation, and mythology than the verifiable and objective categorization of scientific facts.
As Darwin himself called Origin "one long argument," I will examine, in depth, his rhetorical strategies especially in relation to classical rhetoric. Aristotle's Rhetoric along with the poignant research of rhetorician John Campbell will be instrumental towards these ends. Along with Darwin's mastery of rhetoric, his early reading and writings will confirm his affinity with Romanticism. I will consequently document the relationship between the nature-worship and language of the Romantics and the naturalism and poetic discourse that is foundational in much of Origin. I will make such connections in part by discussing Darwin's ideas and writing style in terms of the poetry of men like Wordsworth and Tennyson. I will also identify Darwin's use of Romanticism as a clever literary strategy designed to appeal to Romanticist-influenced Victorians. Finally, I will examine Darwin's ability to create a counter-mythology to creationism.
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Zarrello, James, "Rhetoric and Romanticism in Charles Darwin's Origin of Species" (2003). Legacy ETDs. 32.