The Origin Book Review

Charles Darwin had a nickname for his seminal work, “On the Origin of Species” (1859) – “The Origin” (1980), which is why biographical novelist Irving Stone chose that as the title of his novel about Darwin.  Although the novel is a work of fiction which takes some liberties with Darwin’s personal life and thoughts, this still is a detailed chronicle about the evolution of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Despite the dour thinker presented in portraits and the evil atheist presented in some fundamentalist religions, Darwin comes across as a very tender-hearted character that goes through deep struggles and surpasses them.  He first wanted to be a doctor and then a clergyman, but soon realized that neither calling was for him.  He did worry about how that would affect his parents, whom he loved.  This simple worry speaks a lot about Darwin’s character and what he had to go through at his time.

Not Alone

It was wrongly presumed that Darwin was a brilliant genius in order to come up with “On the Origin of Species”, but this is not true – and Darwin was the first to point out his many colleagues that helped to inspire him.  First off there, was Leonardo da Vinci, which mused that the earth had to be a lot older than what he had been told.  Then there were all of Darwin’s geologist friends, which also told him that the earth had to be far older than 6,000 years.

Darwin’s own grandfather, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, is considered by some to have been the real writer of the theory of evolution.  But the elder Darwin was a doctor by trade and did not have the opportunity that Charles did of sailing around the world examining animals, fish, birds and insects.  He did write poetry and is seen in the book telling Charles that all of life is interconnected and that God had nothing to do with it.

The Storytelling

Compared with other of Irving’s novels, such as “Lust for Life” (1934) about Vincent Van Gogh, “The Origin” is far superior.  After 45 years of writing, Stone is here at the height of his writing powers.   He is able to sift through the mountains of work left behind by Darwin and his contemporaries and put together an intricate, amusing and invigorating read.

For this reader, the most memorable scene takes place in Darwin’s later life, when his son is able to assist him.  His son comes across his father peering through a microscope and hastily taking notes.  When his father sees him, Darwin smiles and exclaims, “Work is life!”  You can almost picture him quivering in happiness.  That’s now what I think of when I think of Darwin.