Usually I do not care much for books set in 19th century England. Somehow the period seems very dark to me, morally oppressive, slow and boring, and covered in the soot of burning coal and eternal fog. The literature of that time seems to ooze the same gloom. When I am in England however it seems that period is viewed there also in a different light. Viewed much more also as a golden age, when applied sciences propelled a steam powered British Empire to a position of global super power. Next to moral superiority and arrogance that must have also been a source of optimism, of belief in progress. That optimism is what is reflected in the Crystal Palace, I guess.

Over the holidays I read two books of fiction set in that period and enjoyed them both enormously. One was a gift by Elmine, a gift she made with some doubts as she knows my general dislike for the period. The other was a gift by my young niece and nephew for Christmas. I read both with a lot of pleasure. Both stories seem to tell of an age where much was in motion, and new insights were coupled and combined with old superstitions, or fought back by the overzealous. It reminds me both of the Monstertheory I blogged a good while back, as well as discussions that now rage through our newspapers and educational system as to the effects of having digital native younger generations.

The first book is ‘Arthur and George‘, by Julian Barnes, combining the life story of Arthur Conan Doyle with that of George Edalji. I knew Julian Barnes from two other titles in our book case, A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters and Something to Declare, which I fittingly bought and read while travelling through France.

The second book is The Darwin Conspiracy, which combines the story of Darwin‘s voyage on the Beagle, the journal of one of his daughters, and the Werdegang of an American researcher. For me the theory of evolution is essential to my thinking about complexity, culture, change and even free will. It is fun to read a work of fiction around the origin of a theory the consequences of which reach far further than the realm of natural selection in biological life forms. Consequences which are widely misunderstood or even unseen, most of us not looking any further than a gross misinterpretation of the term ‘survival of the fittest’. You might guess I’ve been influenced by Daniel Dennett on this as well, having devoured his exploration of the true ‘danger‘ of Darwin’s idea.

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2 reactions on “Holiday Reading

  1. Happy new year! (almost)
    Here to confirm the nuance of Victorian grandeur from the Londoner perspective. Had more or less the same innuendo when I first moved here.
    Reading through the history of the Crystal Palace (I live close to its ruins) made me understand how iconized that time is.

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