“Small Points of Difference”: the Child in Evolutionary Narratives
by Dr Hilary Fraser
Abstract PhD Thesis Dr Hilary Fraser
Congratulations to CIRCL PhD student Hilary Fraser on passing her PhD on 23-06-2009 with her thesis ‘”Small Points of Difference”: the Child in Evolutionary Narratives’. Supervisor: Dr Stephen Thomson; External examiner: Professor Kimberley Reynolds; Internal examiner: Dr Lucy Bending.
Abstract of thesis
The thesis, ‘”Small Points of Difference”: the Child in Evolutionary Narratives’, examines the intersection of ideas of the child and evolution in a range of fiction and non-fiction texts. I analyze a selection of English novels which draw on Darwinian and pre-Darwinian evolutionary theory: The Water-Babies, by Charles Kingsley, Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, The Sword in the Stone and The Book of Merlyn by T. H. White, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman and the Hungry Cities Chronicles by Philip Reeve. I then consider the role of the child in the production of biographical narratives about Charles Darwin, including Annie’s Box by Randal Keynes.
I argue that the figure of the child functions as a counterweight to the perceived inhumanity of evolutionary theories, especially those of Darwin. The child seems to embody the possibility of improvement in the human condition, even though it is itself enmeshed in the evolutionary process, because as a child it is close to nature, and can learn from nature. But the texts I analyze in this study struggle with ideas of the child’s value as the guardian of man’s true unspoilt nature, because this view of the child is complicated by the notion that the child must be educated out of its wild state in order to take its proper place in society. I consider the roles of the family, heredity, education and socialization in the attempted resolution of this contradiction within narrative frameworks that both mirror and disrupt the idea of evolutionary development.
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