The Early Evolutionary Imagination
Literature and Human Nature
Darwinian evolution is an imaginative problem that has been passed down to us unsolved. It is our most powerful explanation of humanity’s place in nature, but it is also more cognitively demanding and less emotionally satisfying than any myth. From the publication of the Origin of Species in 1859, evolution has pushed our capacity for storytelling into overdrive, sparking fairy tales, adventure stories, political allegories, utopias, dystopias, social realist novels, and existential meditations. Though this influence on literature has been widely studied, it has not been explained psychologically. This book argues for the adaptive function of storytelling, integrates traditional humanist scholarship with current knowledge about the evolved and adapted human mind, and calls for literary scholars to reframe their interpretation of the first authors who responded to Darwin.