Darwinism Ideas in Edith Wharthon’s Novel “Twilight Sleep”

Khrystyna Bilynska


The article is devoted to the analysis of the problem of presence of Darwinism ideas in E. Wharton's novel “Twilight Sleep”. The relevance of the study is due to insufficient research of the influence of Darwin’s ideas on the development of the world literary process of the late nineteenth - early twentieth century in modern literary criticism. Therefore, the objective of the research is to interpret E. Wharton’s novel “Twilight Sleep” from the standpoint of Darwinism. To achieve this goal, it is advisable to solve the following tasks: 1) to analyze the effect of natural selection on the lives of characters in the novel “Twilight Sleep”; 2) to consider the behavior of the characters in the context of sexual selection; 3) to study the influence of Darwinism on E. Wharton.

It is proved that natural selection underlies the social processes depicted in the novel at the beginning of the twentieth century, which marked the decline of the ancient tribal nobility and the emergence of the social life of nouveau riche capitalists. Excessively conservative New York aristocrats cannot adapt to life in the postwar world, and therefore lose the struggle for existence to the nouveau riche, whose active social position allows them to quickly and effectively adapt to any external conditions. The principles of sexual selection are manifested in the rivalry of heroes of one sex for possession of heroes of the opposite sex in order to create a family and have children. According to Darwinism, when choosing a partner, women in the novel “Twilight Sleep” pay attention to a man’s financial position, his capabilities and social status, and men - to a woman’s appearance, intelligence and social status. The heroines who successfully undergo natural and sexual selection, manage to start a family and have children (Lita Wyant, Pauline Manford). As Nona Manford does not undergo natural and sexual selection, she remains single and childless.

It is established that the influence of Darwinist ideas can be traced to the peculiarities of E. Wharton’s idiostyle. Following Charles Darwin’s scientific style, who provides numerous illustrations from the life of nature to confirm his theory, the writer compares her characters with representatives of flora and fauna, which contributes to their semi-animalistic image.


evolutionism; Darwinism; realism; naturalism; natural selection; sexual selection; idiostyle


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