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Podlich Distinguished Fellow

Darwin and the Former Giants

Gillian Beer has explored the relations of the two cultures of science and literature. Her landmark book Darwin's Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Elliott and 19th Century Fiction (1985) demonstrates how Darwin overturned fundamental cultural assumptions by revising stories that he inherited from writers as diverse as Lucretius, Shakespeare, and Wordsworth. She also reveals how major English novelists such as George Eliot and Thomas Hardy pursued and resisted the implications of Darwin's narratives, and how the stories he produced about natural selection and the struggle for life now underpin our culture. Beer's Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter (1996) addresses these and similar questions about the relations of science and literature, encompassing not only Darwin but Helmholz, Kelvin, Frazer, Tyndall, and Hopkins.

Dame Beer is King Edward VII Professor of English Literature at Cambridge University and President of Clare Hall, the graduate college. Her previous books include Arguing with the Past: Essays in Narrative from Woolf to Sidney (1989), Forging the Missing Link: Interdisciplinary Stories (1993), and Virginia Woolf the Common Ground: Essays by Gillian Beer (1997). She has also been chair of the Booker Prize Committee.

Professor Beer joins us as Podlich Distinguished Fellow from March 23 until April 18. She will be joined by her husband, Professor John Beer, also of Cambridge University, a distinguished scholar of English romantic literature.