Tag Archives: evidence

Charles Darwin – The Origin of Species (1859)

Important topics:

The difference between natural selection and sexual selection. Gets taken up by Mill in On Liberty to distinguish the role of government: on the one hand, the rigorous respect for individual growth, and the processes of selection which occur through discourse and conversation.

Species vs. individual: Darwin refuses the fixed category of a species. It is merely a name for a set of creatures that resemble one another. This will trouble, eventually, the division between man and animal.

The tiny sublime: in Darwin, the sublime becomes infinitesimally small: “Natural selection can act only by the preservation and accumulation of infinitesimally small modifications, each profitable to the preserved being.” This follows the extended discussion of domestication, the visible  and invisible, man’s ability to see or not, etc. Connect to the broader topics of the secret: small, inhering in change, transformation. Connect this to the larger topic of transition, historical, aesthetic and otherwise. Also connect to the opening of Daniel Deronda, where the “author” claims that the “beginning” of any story is arbitrary because the units of experience can be cut up into infinitely tiny pieces, thus making the discovery of some originary cause impossible.

The domestic: good way to start a conversation about domestic fiction more broadly. Written in 1859, so in the midst of later Dickens (Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations) and the same year as Collins’ Woman in White. Darwin’s argument is that man can select for the purposes of domestic farming, but that no man can see the processes of “natural” selection. “Man can act only on external and visible characters: Nature cares nothing for Appearances, except in so far as they may be useful to any being” (65).  As evidence, he shows that domesticated animals revert back to a state of nature when released into the wild, returning to certain instinctual patterns that are inexplicable within the parameters set by human understanding.  Interesting to talk about Wuthering Heights as presaging this work on domestication.

“Perfection” – argues, just as Ruskin does in The Nature of the Gothic” that nothing in nature, nothing living, can be held to the standards of human or aesthetic perfection: nevertheless, these processes recur as the very thing judged according to the beautiful…and as constitutive of that very beauty.

Geological record: as an imperfect text that tells the history of mankind extending beyond mankind, in languages that are not our own. Relate this to the cathedral of Notre-Dame.

The Tree Of Life as an analogy for the development of the world–i.e. dead branches fall off, new ones replace them, and the tree keeps growing. Connect this with the notion of perfection and the aesthetic more generally. What is metaphor accomplishing for Darwin? How does this relate to wonder? How does the shift the conversation from worries about the dry and mechanical, to one of beauty and wonder.


Thomas Huxley: “a mass of facts crushed and pounded into shape, rather than held together by the ordinary medium of an obvious logical bond.”

Cathy Gallagher on The Body Economic: distinguishes between bioeconmic plots (how political economies circulate Life) and somaeconomic plots — how accounts of pleasure and pain, unhappiness, desire, exhaustion, etc. stimulate bio plots and are in turned transformed by them. Central paradox: “the social body is growing old precisely insofar as the actual demographic proportions of the society are increasingly weighted towards youth, since, under optimal conditions, each generation would be twice as large as the generation preceding it. For Malthus to make sense, the body/society homology needs to be considered as a body/society opposition.”

George Levine: distinguishes Darwin studies from Literary Darwinsimsm; among other points, talks about hwo Darwin inspires wonder and not dry mechanical reducitonism. Everything signifies beyond itself, infinitely but immanently.

Robert Louis Stevenson – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Starts off with Utterson and Enfield taking their weekly walk. Enfield tells a story of his randomly coming home from some “end of the world” and seeing Hyde turna  corner and trample a young girl in the street (contingency of the urban). He offers to pay the family 10 pounds but gives them a 100 pound check signed by Jekyll. Utterson, who knows that Jekyll has recently signed over hsi entire will to Hyde, is worried. He hunts down Hyde, who turns out to be hideous, and asks for his address, which Hyde gives him. Jekyll tells Utterson not to worry. The circle of bachelors hang out quite a bit until one day Jekyll, who has laid off the potion that transforms him into Hyde, buckles under the pressure and kills an MP by the name of Carew. Investigation ensues but the murderer has vanished and only the broken cane is found in Jekyll’s apartment. More time passes has Jekyll tries to ameliorate himself…he employs his friend Lanyon to help him procure the potion that transforms Hyde back into Jekyll. Lanyon suddenly dies of shock. Eventually Utterson breaks into Jekyll’s laboratory to find Hyde dead in Jekyll’s clothes, with a letter that explains everything that happened. Jekyll had started to be overwhelmed by the potion, turning into Hyde in mid-day. He eventually ran out of potion. Jekyll’s narrative ends by saying he does not know what will happen with Hyde, but that his life is over.

Can think of Hyde as the creature of Dr. Frankenstein in a post-Darwinian age. He is in this sense simple the product of Dr. Jekyll: he is the product of his society (the “species”): we can think of this “splitting” as the harmful bifurcation that occurs in organisms as they evolve. [Relate this to Ruskin’s worries that men are being “split” because they are disallowed freedom in “Nature of the Gothic,” and also to Hopkins “splitting,” which reduces the variety of the world into black and white, right and wrong.] Adrian Poole (2005) says that Hyde is specifically the product of the ‘patriarchy’ that dominates the tale. The community is composed almsot exclusively of childless men: Hyde as returned of the repressed à la Picture of Dorian Gray? Problematic.

Formally, is is a short story, a novel, or a novella? Poole argues that Stevenson wanted to “explode” the categories of fiction because he thought the Jamesian dictum–“Art imitates Life”–was bunk; instead, Stevenson’s story etched down to the bare minimum, and beyond, with ellipses, inexplicable entrances and exits, unanswered plot questions, etc.

Urban Space – The city throws people together by chance and the creation of a story ensues: relate to Poe and Dickens: man of the crowd. Can begin to talk about a “geography of chance” in relation to Darwinian evolution: how Darwin migrates the city. Compare portrait of urban space in Dr. Jekyll and Picture of Dorian Gray.

Transcendental Science vs. Material Science : Wallace vs. Darwin : Jekyll vs. Lanyon. A debate over explanations of species variation and the intervention of “God.”

Jekyll the narrator from the end can see all, and Jekyll in the present, while seeing less, still sees more than Hyde. Jekyll can hide from Hyde’s narrative, but Hyde can never hide from Jekyll. Can talk about the power of concealment. Relate to the “becoming-intense” of the secret.

Jane Austen – Northanger Abbey (p. 1817)

Catherine Morland, great reader of Gothic fiction, goes to Bath with her neigbors Mr. and Mrs. Allen. She meets Isabella Thorpe, who loves her borther James Morland, who is a friend of John Thorpe, a crass soldier who fancies Catherine. Catherine meets the Tilneys, (Henry, Eleanor and the General), who like her. She eventually goes to Northanger Abbey, where she has numerous “Gothic” experiences related to the deceased mother. Isabella goes after Captain Tilney and breaks up with James Morland. The Gneral finds out from Thorpe that Catherine is not so rich and he makes her go home suddenly. Henry follows, proposes and struggles for consent, which is give after Eleanor marries an unmade rich man, thus compensating for Catherine’s relative poverty (which isn’t all that bad after all).

The Gothic – mostly in dialogue with Anne Radcliffe, the Mysteries of Udolpho and the Romance of the Forest. They structure Catherine’s epistemology—sort of a crude experiment that is better expressed in the socially conditioned perspectives of novels like Pride and Prejudice and Emma.

Conventions – Self-conscious about the “heroine,” not so easy to tell when Catherine is fashioning her actions after Camilla, for example, and when the narrator is actively interpreting certain events as appropriate or not to a heroine. Free indirect discourse is incipient but never fully deployed.

Fashion – While in Bath, Mrs. Allen is always pointing out fashion details. Her remarks will become more fully mediated in later works, as the narrator better deploys ironic takes on fashion trends.

Chapter openings and narrative experiments – During the stay in Bath, Austen uses a chapter per day method for five days straight. The effect is monotonous, self-consciously so. One senses here playing with conflicting determining categories – recit and narrative, to use Genette’s terms. What is boring, the story or the way of telling the story?

Space – Northanger Abbey is highly articulated. Every detail is mapped out such that that which is not represented becomes the obvious locus of mystery. Focus on the chest as dark secret, enclosed. Entrapment is explained and motivated. Heidggerean fear but no anxiety. Compare to other locked containers, such as in Wuthering Heights (the weird bedchamber wardrobe) or in Freud’s commentary on the three caskets in the Merchant of Venice (read and expound).

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes

Sign of Four (1890)

largely derived from Collins’ The Moonstone. Has  boat chase scene, Holmes solves the plot but does not get the treasure back…the futility of unraveling plot for the sake of plot, or perhaps just the opposite.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)

Triangulates between Watson, Holmes and reader. Reader identification is crucial—the cards are always stacked against her, b/c of Watson’s withholding of information (not directly, but by the person writing Watson…or is it?) Holmes is a master reader, always finding reasons for everything. But at times the concept of plot is internally critiqued as a mere device, while plot is being used to tell the story.

Drug use as a substitute for the effects of narrative—Holmes is either plotting or shooting up.

  • A Scandal in Bohemia – use of the negative as a way to find result – beat by Irene Adler – the problem/threat of women remains paramount for Holmes.
  • Red-Headed League – Interesting stuff on the strangeness of life itself (as opposed to fiction), in a story that deals with biological traits – namely, red hair, which comes to represent ugly wierdness for Doyle.
  • Case of Identity – A step father becomes the suitor of his step-daughter (engaging but not marrying here) in order to maintain the constant flow of her dowry. Connect with other father/husband doublings, such as Jarndyce.
  • The Five Orange Pips – Takes the KKK as its subject – strange similarities to Sutpen in Absalom/Absalom. Unique because “fate” in the form of a storm succeeds where Holmes fails (sinks the boat of racists) though he solves the crime, he can’t being justice.

Bram Stoker – Dracula (1897)

Joanthan Harker goes to Transylvania as a young solicitor and is held captive by Count Dracula. He is prevented from writing to his boss and his wife-to-be, Mina Murray. Meanwhile Lucy Westerna, best friend of Mina Murray, becomes engaged to Arthur Godalming, after turning down John Seward (director of an insane asylum) and Quincey Morris (an impetuous but kind American). Soon after Harker escapes, and goes to convalesce, Dracula starts to suck Lucy’s blood. Van Helsing is called from Holland by Sward to help. Eventually, Lucy becomes a vampire and they have to cut off her head. Dracual has come to London and they start to track him down, sterilizing the 50 coffins that he has imported from Transylvania (full of that native earth). He eventually flees to Romania, but not before vamping on the angelic Mina Murray, now married to the fully recovered Harker. They set off, using hypnotism on Mina to discover that Dracula is traveling by water. They eventually find him in Romania, and Harker kills him just before sundown, but not before Quincey is killed by a gypsy.

Language – attention give to different languages, speech impediments, shorthand, translation, etc.

Life – where does life reside? In blood, earth, mind? Different answers given thtoughout.

Modes of writing – Stoker runs the gamut of recording devices: diary, journal, phonograph, typewriter, traveler typewriter, “angelic recorder.” In the end, after compiling the compulsively written documents, they decide that no document is authentic except for the original written diaries.

The Press – Press clippings are often pasted into journals and used to speed along events. In short, everything is seen and able to be written about by someone.

Knowledge/Power/Concealment – This often breaks down along gendered lines. When mina is left out of conversations, Dracula starts to vamp her.

The Host – use of Christ’s signified body as defense

Ships – connect with Sign of Four and Moonstone – the ocean, sea is a wily mode of transportation, slower but more effective than trains, coaches, etc. for evasion

Euthanasia – read as arch-word (357)

Stuff on child-brain and man-brain – Child-brain is slave to empirical training and testing, and is highly selfish. Interesting Humean discourse here.

Wilkie Collins – The Moonstone (1868)

A “family paper” opens the novel, describing the theft of a precious yellow diamond during a siege of India in late 18th C. Three Indians are committed to restoring diamond at costs.

Gabriel Betteridge opens narration, having been requested by Franklin Blake to write out his perspective on events. His daughter Penelope is a servant to Rachel Verinder, daughter of the august Lady Verinder. Rahcel’s suitor Franklin Blake is told to give her the diamond for her birthday. He does, but diamond is stolen. Sergeant Cuff investigates and suspects Rachel to be in cahoots with a servant Rosanna Spearman, who commits suicide in the Shivering Sands (supposedly has a crush on Franklin Blake). Cuff resigns job after suspecting Rachel. Franklin leaves for Africa or something. Godfrey Abelwhite, another suritor, becomes engaged to Rachel. Franklin returns, intent on clearing his name from his involvement with the Moonstone, but finds out that he in fact stole the diamond. Ezra Jennings proposes an experiment with opium, b/c his master Dr. Candy had drugged Frankling the night of the birthday and he had stolen the diamond under the influence of opium. Cuff, Jennings, and lawyer Bruff meet to watcht he experiment, which works. Rachel is there, too, and is convinced of his innocence even before it goes off. Menawhile, the diamond is taken out of the bank by Mr. Luker and folks try to track various people, and eventually find Godfrey Abelwhite dead in his hotel room in disguise. Novel finishes with a travelers tale in India, the Moonstone has been replaced and there’s a huge ceremony. Rachel and Franklin get married.

A lot of the same narrative issues as Woman in White; same troubles finishing. Why the opium experiments after they discovered Godfrey Abelwhite? Goes deep into questions of sensation and impression. Can be read as a “Humean” experiment…

Structure: two periods and an epilogue. The first period is comprised of one narrative completely given by Gabriel Betteridge, the second contains eight different narratives, and the epilogue contains the authoritative official account of Cuff and two reports from abroad, recounting the diamond’s restoration. Interesting arch of fragmentation and restoration.

Many scenes of reading Robinson Crusoe dramatizes the act of fitting facts to pre-determined interpretations—the book has supposedly foretold everything to Gabriel.

SHIPS: cf. Dracula and Sign of Four. Travel by sea becomes unsteady.

Convergence of inconveniences: people out of town, sick, lost memory, etc., all right before narrative comes to close.

Wilkie Collins – The Woman in White (1860)

Walter Hartwright opens the novel narrating a strange encounter with a woman in white on the outskirts of London. Helps her find a carriage, and finds out that she has escaped from psych ward. Walter gets a job teaching drawing to Laura Fairlie and Marian Halcombe. He falls in love with Laura (who looks exactly like Anne), but is relieved of post because Laura is engaged to Sir Percival Glyde,a  hot-headed landed gentry who turns out to be quite awful. Walter goes to South America. Mr. Fairlie signs away Laura’s fortune (20.000 pounds). 10,000 pounds have also been left to her, but will go to Countess Fosco if she dies before the Foscos do. Laura marries, goes to Rome, and then returns. Percival spends loads of money. The hugely fat Count Fosco returns with them. Anne begins to come around (wearing white b/c of attachment to deceased Mrs. Fairlie) talking about a “Secret” that will bring Percival crashing down. Turns out her mother has told her about the secret, without giving the content, and Anne used this to advantage in youth and was consequently sent to asylum. Laura and Marian become prisoners—through an ingenious plan, Fosco and Percival switch the dead Anne with the living Laura in order to have Laura put into an insane asylum—but also mange to get the money to pay the debts. Marian breaks her out, Walter returns, and they begin to try to reconstruct the evidence that will reveal Percival’s secret and also prove Laura’s identity (the latter comes down to a matter of dates; the former comes down to a marriage log in rustic church). Percival attempts to burn the log and burns the church down with himself inside. Percival has spuriously inserted his name into the log (a sin), that in fact covers up the original sin of Philip Fairlie who fathered both Anne and Laura by different mothers. Battle continue with Fosco, who si blackmailed into writing his account of the story. He is part of an international secret society (in which Pesca is high-ranking member), he flees but is tracked down and killed in Paris. Laura and Walter are married and their child inherits Limmeridge.

Preface: Lays out form of the story: characters provide narration along a roughly chronological chain—no overlap, so the various perspectives are not complicating the scene described (they rather highlight the characters—and clarify the story)…characters becomes means to a plot. Any overlap is ABOUT PLOT NOT ABOUT CHARACTER.

Narration: both narrator and organizer of evidence.

Story vs. law: acknowledge of “facts” being inadequate to the task of narration.

Discussion of Crime: the perfect crime is one in which no one knows the crime has been committed. Think about this as form for all narrative: SECRET. Secret takes on substance.

Function of the lawyer or man of business – Mr. Gilmore is impersonal recorder of events, as pure functioning machine. Cf. Bruff in Moonstone.

MADNESS enters as medicine into a family crime (no longer associated with larger cosmic determination, but firmly domestic)

Sir Pericval’s crime is a solution to a problem via the limited protocols of marriage.

Inheritance: similar routing of the spurious inheritor as in Wuthering Heights.