Thursday, September 17, 2009
One For The Grown-ups?
I enjoy reading about the nineteenth century, and I'm definitely interested in the science/religion conflict from that period. My interests as a history geek lean toward how people lived rather than wars, too. So Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith had a lot to offer me. As I read it, though, I wondered if it had a lot to offer younger readers.
The publisher describes it as being marketed to readers thirteen and up. I think most older teens will have moved on to adult biography, and I just don't know if a book about a nineteenth century marriage is going to be that fascinating for younger teens. The Darwins were already thirty when they married (after Charles's voyage on The Beagle, so that is only referred to in the past), and they move right along into a sickly middle age. (Particularly Charles.) Parental grief over the death of children as well as the passing of one elderly relative after another are probably of more interest to adults than kids. There are a few subtle references to sex from Darwin's notebooks and letters that may produce an "Eww" reaction. The material on how Darwin worked out his theory doesn't add a lot of plot or adventure because essentially the guy seems to have sat in his library and thought. For years. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's damn good work, if you can get it. But it doesn't create much in the way of natural narrative drive.
Charles and Emma is very highly regarded, and that's just fine. But I kept wishing that it were either a kids' historical novel from the point of view of one of the Darwin children or an even more sophisticated adult work.
Hey, what was with so many members of this family being sick all the time, anyway? I know there's been some work done about women and sickness in the nineteenth century, and some of the children were picking up serious contagious diseases. But what about Charles?