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Title: The return to Darwin in the contemporary British novel: An evolutionary response to postmodernism and social constructivism
Authors: Abdulwahab, Hussain
Advisors: Tew, P
Hubble, N
Keywords: Popular science;War and nature;Close reading and textual analysis;Conservatism in literature;Monotheism and atheism
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Brunel University London
Abstract: Arguably, the impact of Darwinism on the novel is an indispensable part of the study of English literature. However, with regard to such literary study there is an ongoing aversion towards approaching Darwin outside the confines of his contemporaneous Victorian setting. This thesis explores what remains an extremely under-represented area of current scholarship; namely, the active status of Darwinism as an influence upon contemporary novelists. To address this gap, this study starts by conducting textual and comparative analyses of a representative selection of contemporary British novels, a literary field that, since 1990, has featured significant authors who have found in Darwin a source of intellectual and literary inspiration. The aim is to argue that Darwin’s classic texts, and more recent incarnations of his theory such as Sociobiology, are deployed as a materialist discourse, used to subvert various problematic assumptions in the declining Postmodernist philosophy, the previously dominant theoretical paradigm. For novelists including Ian McEwan, A.S. Byatt and Jenny Diski, Darwinism provides the tools to define human nature in an oppositional manner to the Social Constructivism which reduces the human to a blank slate ready for society’s dictation. A universal human nature can be seen manifested in biological phenomena including competition, altruism, reproduction and aggression. The treacherous territory of biological determinism is still present, yet the desire to experiment is carried forward by McEwan in Enduring Love and Saturday into the realm of challenging traditional religion. In a more nuanced manner, Jim Crace’s Being Dead manages to create a wholly naturalistic narrative of death. Finally, reinstating alterative meta-narratives is a practice that comes fully into its own in contemporary renditions of history. Byatt’s Neo-Victorian novels, Possession and Morpho Eugenia, exhibit faith in knowing the past as if it were an evolutionary process of accumulated changes. Moreover, Diski’s serio-ironic Monkey’s Uncle is focused on how the present is haunted by the past in the form of immortal DNA coils. This study analyses the texts in a manner suggesting a paradigm shift in literary scholarship, where Darwin is no longer seen as simply an ideological threat. As the sciences continue to become more hermeneutically enigmatic, and as literature seems embedded in an elitist Postmodernist trajectory, there is now huge democratic potential in the New Darwinian Novel which invites the everyman of today to participate in the controversies of both disciplines.
Description: This thesis was submitted for the award of Doctor of Philosophy and was awarded by Brunel University London
Appears in Collections:English and Creative Writing
Dept of Arts and Humanities Theses

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