01 April 2011

Did Twain help Darwin?

Sarah Ellis reflects on one of my favorite books by Mark Twain - "Eve's Diary"

The book version of "Eve's Diary" came with some really lovely illustrations by Lester Ralph, one depicting Eve, nude (oh no, what a shock!), demurely stirring the water of a stream with her foot. It is a beautiful picture, perfectly matched to the story - Eve is innocent, yet obviously sensual and very womanly. It turns out that this illustration caused quite a stir and Twain was eventually brought to testify before congress about the "pornography" in his book. Twain later described the experience,

"It seems curious to me — some of the incidents in this case. It appears that the pictures in Eve's Diary were first discovered by a lady librarian. When she made the dreadful find, being very careful, she jumped at no hasty conclusions — not she — she examined the horrid things in detail. It took her some time to examine them all, but she did her hateful duty! I don't blame her for this careful examination; the time she spent was, I am sure, enjoyable, for I found considerable fascination in them myself."

Could Twain be funnier? As an aside, I do wonder how Twain's irreverance might have encouraged acceptance of a wider secularism. One, for instance, that made Darwinism more acceptable. Perhaps heretics need satirists for courage. In any case, I don't know how widespread "Eve's Diary" was but I think it would be worth finding out whether any famous American scientists had read it. Its certainly worth reading now - it has a spirited originality much like that of Melville or Kafka.

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