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Natural literary selection

There’s been historical criticism, biographical criticism, Marxist criticism, and many more. The latest literary theory to get some mainstream attention is Darwinian criticism. In a feature in The New York Times Magazine, writer D.T. Max covers a small but devoted band of scholars who base their reading of literature on Charles Darwin’s scientific theories. “They say that it’s impossible to fully appreciate and understand a literary text unless you keep in mind that humans behave in certain universal ways and do so because those behaviors are hard-wired into us,” writes Max. “For them, the most effective and truest works of literature are those that reference or exemplify these basic facts.”

Max suggests that for the literary Darwinists, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is the uber-text, concerning as it does the quest to find a suitable mate. And though it’s not mentioned in Max’s article, John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman must also resonate with this crowd: it’s got the choosing-a-mate angle; its protagonist, a Victorian gentleman, is an early admirer of Darwin’s work; and the novel’s multiple endings, each one competing for credibility with the reader, suggest a survival-of-the-fittest approach to narrative.

Fowles, of course, died last Saturday. The litblog The Elegant Variation has compiled a sizable list of Fowles-related links.

Related links:
Click here for the NYT Magazine feature on literary Darwinism
Click here for the NYT obituary of John Fowles
Click here for The Elegant Variation’s list of Fowles-related links