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Charles Darwin and Victorian Visual Culture by Jonathan Smith

In this book, Johnathan Smith explains how Darwin managed to illustrate the unillustratable – his theories on natural selection. Published in 2009.

Cover art, copyright Cambridge University Press

Although “On the Origin of Species” contained just a single visual illustration, Charles Darwin’s other books, from his monography on barnacles in the early 1850s to his volume on earthworms in 1881, were copiously illustrated by well-known artists and engravers of the time.

In this book, Johnathan Smith explains how Darwin managed to illustrate the unillustratable – his theories on natural selection – by manipulating and modifying the visual conventions of natural history, using images to support the claims made by his texts.

It connects the illustrations of Darwin and his opponents to Victorian visual culture to issues of religion and morals, class and nation, gender and sexuality, race and empire. But most prominently it focuses on the impact of Darwin on Victorian aesthetic debates so is a must read for anyone interested in the works of Charles Darwin, the Victorians or natural history illustration.

This book is available to view in the Society library on the 2nd floor of the Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle. Members of the Natural History Society of Northumbria are able to borrow this book from the library.