Science in Context

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Charles Darwin as a Celebrity

Janet  Browne a1
a1 Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL

Article author query
browne j   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 



Several recent works in sociology examine the manufacture of public identities through the notion of celebrity. This paper explores the imagery of Charles Darwin as a nineteenth-century scientific celebrity by comparing the public character deliberately manufactured by Darwin and his friends with images constructed by the public as represented here by caricatures in humorous magazines of the era. It is argued that Darwin’s outward persona drew on a subtle tension between public and private. The boundaries between public and private were blurred by the ritual of Darwin “showing” himself in the flesh, either at home to visitors or, more rarely, on public occasions. The reputation for privacy and illness that he built up added materially to this public face. By contrast, caricatures tended to depict him as an ape. These apish representations played a significant role in associating Darwin, rather than any other thinker, with the notion of evolution, and in creating an alternative public persona over which he had no direct control.