Evolution and

Evolution and "the Sex Problem": American Narratives during the Eclipse of Darwinism

by Bert Bender
Pub. Date:
Kent State University Press


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Evolution and "the Sex Problem": American Narratives during the Eclipse of Darwinism

A noteworthy investigation of the Darwinian element in American fiction from the realist through the Freudian eras

In Evolution and “the Sex Problem” author Bert Bender argues that Darwin’s theories of sexual selection and of the emotions are essential elements in American fiction from the late 1800s through the 1950s, particularly during the Freudian era and the years surrounding the Scopes trial.

Bender contends that novelists with different social points of view explored “the sex problem,” and what resulted was a great diversity of American narratives aligned with either Darwinian or a number of anti-Darwinian theories of evolution. Included are intriguing discussions of works by Frank Norris, Jack London, Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, Gertrude Stein, Willa Cather, Sherwood Anderson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, five writers of the Harlem Renaissance, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway. Among the ideas explored are Darwin’s theory of common descent; the question of man’s place in nature; the possibility of evolutionary progress; the issues of heredity and eugenics; the Darwinian basis of Freud’s theory of sexual repression; the quandary of male violence and the role of female choice in sexual selection; the power of and the problems of racial and sexual difference; and the ecological problems that arose directly from Darwin’s theory of evolution.

This volume provides a valuable treatment of an underappreciated aspect of America’s major narratives of human life and love and will be appreciated by literary scholars and readers interested in Darwinism and culture.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780873388092
Publisher: Kent State University Press
Publication date: 10/07/2004
Pages: 406
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: In a Dark Time1
"Man's Place in Nature," Life Itself, and the Sex Problem8
Aspects of the Sex Problem12
Modern Psychology and the Sex Problem16
1Frank Norris on the Evolution and Repression of the Sexual Instinct30
Joseph Le Conte's Version of Darwinian Theory and His Emphasis on Sexual Reproduction32
Norris's Battle with the Theory of Sexual Selection35
Norris and the Repression of the Sexual Emotions47
2"The Chaos of His Brain": Evolutionary Psychology in The Red Badge of Courage52
Crane and William James56
Evolutionary Progress, the "Throat-Grappling Instinct," and the Emotions57
Sexual Selection and the "Law of Battle"62
3Jack London and "the Sex Problem"72
London's Early Explorations of Sexual Selection: A Daughter of the Snows, The Kempton-Wace Letters, and The Sea-Wolf73
Martin Eden and The Valley of the Moon: Havelock Ellis, Freud, and the Ecological Vision78
The "Bawling of Sex" in The Little Lady of the Big House91
4Theodore Dreiser, Science, and "It"116
The Problem and Solution: The Evolutionary Tangle and Evolutionary Progress119
Carrie's Choice and the "Distant Wings" of Beauty121
"A Real Man-A Financier"126
5"The Varieties of Human Experience": Sexual Intimacy, Heredity, and Emotional Conflict in Gertrude Stein's Early Work135
Heredity and Female Choice in The Making of Americans (1903)138
Q.E.D.: The Howling Wolves of Love140
"The Nature of Woman" in Fernhurst: The "Deepening Knowledge of Life and Love and Sex"146
Three Lives: Anna's "Strange Coquetry of Anger and Fear"148
"The Gentle Lena": The Tyranny of Matchmakers and the Father-Instinct153
Melanctha: "Too Complex with Desire"155
6Sex and Evolution in Willa Cather's O Pioneers! and The Song of the Lark163
Creative Evolution and Sex166
Marie and Alexandra: Beyond Sexual Selection in O Pioneers!168
"Dreamers on the Frontier"172
Sexual Desire in The Song of the Lark176
Sex and Sublimation in The Power of Sound179
Sexual Selection, Marriage, and Evolutionary Play181
7"Under the Shell of Life": Sherwood Anderson and "the Call of Sex"189
The Darwinian Pattern in Anderson's Fiction194
Sexual Difference: "The Maleness of the Male"195
Sexual Difference: The Woman "Strong to Be Loved"200
Reflections of Freud and Havelock Ellis in Anderson's Presentation of Sex207
"The Hidden Wonder Story": The Unconscious and Anderson's Transcendental Naturalism Sexual Violence, Play of Mind, and Transcendence in Winesburg, Ohio216
8"His Mind Aglow": The Biological Undercurrent in Fitzgerald's Gatsby and other Works224
"Love or Eugenics"225
The Riddle of the Universe: Accident, Heredity, and Selection226
Sexual Selection in The Great Gatsby232
9Harlem, 1928: The Biology of the Black Soul and the "Rising Tide of Rhythm"244
W.E.B. DuBois's Dark Princess: The Talented Soul250
Jessie Fauset's Plum Bun: A "Biology [that] Transcends Society!"257
Nella Larsen's Quicksand: Darwin, James, Freud, and the Psychology of Mixed Race264
Claude McKay's Home to Harlem: The "It's a Be-Be Itching Life" Blues272
Rudolph Fisher's The Walls of Jericho and the "Rising Tide of Rhythm"283
10V.F. Calverton and the Principles of Red Love298
11"To Be Alive": John Steinbeck's The Log from the Sea of Cortez and The Wayward Bus312
The Log from the Sea of Cortez: Ecology and Man's Place in Nature315
Sweetheart's "Rear End" and the Marriage Problem in The Wayward Bus320
12"Night Song": Africa and Eden in Hemingway's Late Work329
Courtship and Anthropology in Africa333
Dark Eden342
Works Cited362

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