Monday, February 27, 2012

Charles and Emma: The Darwin's Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

Charles and Emma won a medal for excellence in YA nonfiction from ALA, a National Book Award finalist and was a Printz award honor book. Historically, I suppose it may be deserving of such awards. The author does a fine job of placing the Darwin's lives into historical context, including accounts of their contemporaries and occurrences in the world in which they lived. There were also extensive quotes from letters written by both Charles and Emma, as well as some of their friends and children. It was brief, and thus not as thoroughly in depth as another biography (one not written for young adults) may have been, but covered enough detail to give a comprehensive view of the subjects' lives. Charles and Emma, as suggested by the title, focuses on the relationship between the author of the Origin of Species and his wife, and how their lives were shaped by one another. Taken as such, it wasn't too bad.

Taken from a Christian point of view, it was somewhat miserable to read. Just as movies today portray Christians as superstitious and sentimental and mentally deficient, Emma Darwin is shown as a woman swayed primarily by emotion and feeling who, later in life, largely casts off her Christian faith. From the beginning, her theology was riddled with faulty doctrine – she rejected the Trinity, knowingly married a man who was not a believer, and based her faith almost solely on the hope that she would be reunited in the afterlife with a beloved sister who died young. However, it was Emma's Christianity and Charles' theories rejecting a Creator God which this book's conflict centered on.

Even knowing that her husband's theories rejected the God she believed in, Emma supported and encouraged Darwin throughout their lives. They had a strong marriage and were very devoted to each other, and Emma gave herself to caring for her home and family, and keeping a joyful spirit and a warm heart. The Darwin home was very unlike the typical Victorian family, as the many rambunctious children were very close with their parents and never restricted to the nursery.

I wasn't sorry to read this book for its historical value (which, having never explored Darwin's past before, I can only assume is accurate.) However, with its purported focus on how Christianity and godless evolution coexisted (with one finally taking the upper hand), the book utterly failed to acknowledge Christianity as anything more than a collection of nice stories for quiet people. Should I have expected more? Perhaps not, but it would have been nice.


  1. I saw this on your Goodreads and almost saved it, but I think I'll skip.

  2. I don't think I could stomach a reading of it, but it does sound like a rather fascinating book all of the same - from a Christian point of view.

  3. Everyone knows evolution is true because Science has proved it. Christianity can't be proved, because all Christians are unscientific and old-fashioned (which is the greater sin is for you to decide), so it shouldn't be believed in.

    For reals, though, I'm surprised by how violent the reaction against postmodernism has been from old-school Modernist quarters. It worries me much more than any damage postmodernists have been able to wreak thus far.