Genesis, the Origin, and Darwin's autobiographies

Alexis Harley


In the first paragraph of his "Recollections", Charles Darwin explains, "I have attempted to write the following account of myself, as if I were a dead man in another world looking back at my own life" (6). As John Sturrock, George Levine, James Olney and Howard Helsinger have variously observed, Darwin's self-construction here rhetorically asserts an objectivity and scientific authority that contradict the realities of autobiographical production (the temptation to fictionalize, the deceitfulness of memory, the absurdity of claiming pure empiricism in the interpretation of a life). More than that, in playing revenant, Darwin makes himself out as transcendental and metaphysical: an otherworldly retrospective narrator with a god's-eye view of his life. He claims not just the authority of the uninvolved, but the authority of the immortal.

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ISSN 1749-9771

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