Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Survival of the Not-So-Fittest

Kieran Healy of Crooked Timber reviews Janet Brown's Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. Brown draws attention to a little remarked pattern in the intellectual division of labor:

"[Darwin] was also remarkably well-insulated from any other distractions. Within his home, at Down House, his wife and daughters made sure that he didn’t have anything much to worry about, and so his amazing capacity for driving, constant work could be brought to bear on the problem of evolution. This insulation was aided by the fact that he was comfortably well-off, of course, and further abetted by the physical illnesses—marked mainly by long periods of retching and vomiting—that afflicted him. Darwin suffered a great deal from these health problems, but it’s also clear that they buffered him against unwanted obligations of all sorts. Part of this was just a consequence of being sick, but often his (quite real) attacks came on him at just the right times. The Victorian tendency to build personal and even marital relationships out of chronic invalidism was well-represented within Down House." (Kieran Healy, "Darwin at Home," Crooked Timber, Nov. 4, 2005).