August 3, 2011

A tender romance

by Deborah Heiligman

This story begins with Charles Darwin making a list. It has two columns: “Marry" and "Not  Marry”. In between, he wrote This is the Question, then proceeded to note down the pros and cons of the idea. At the end of this exercise, he decides that marrying seems the best idea. So, although they do not know each other well, he and his cousin Emma Wedgewood, announce their engagement. But there is one major concern – religion. Emma is a devout Christian and fears for Charles’s soul because of his doubts about God.

Instead of a straight biography, this is a portrait of a marriage and of a family. It is often very serious and distressing, with its account of death and ill health. But we also get to know Darwin not only as a scientist, but as a loving husband and father. In turn, Emma is supporter, companion, mother, and confidante. Excerpts from their letters show that although they had their differences, neither could live without the other.   

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