The Evolution of Inanimate Objects
The Life and Collected Works of Thomas Darwin (1857-1879)
A novel by Harry Karlinsky
While carrying out historical research at Ontario's London Asylum, psychiatrist Harry Karlinsky comes across a familiar surname in the register, one "Thomas Darwin of Down, England." Could this Thomas, involuntarily admitted to the asylum in 1879 as "dangerous to others," be a relation of the eminent scientist Charles Darwin? And what might have brought him to this place, where he died alone, a world away from home? In a narrative woven from letters, memoir abstracts, photographs and illustrations, what emerges is a sketch of Thomas's life -- from his earliest days at Down House and schooling, through his scholarly works, collected together here for the first time, to his confinement and death within a North American asylum.
In this stunning factitious biography, Karlinsky gives us a subtle parody and a Nabokovian tale of Darwinian theory gone wrong. Through the sometimes doctored, sometimes invented writings of historical figures, we see the tragically short life of Thomas Darwin, the last of eleven children born to Charles Darwin, and a young scientist in his own right, whose novel application of evolutionary theory centres on knives and forks and spoons. Although decisively a work of fiction, The Evolution of Inanimate Objects invites sustained uncertainty as to whether Thomas Darwin is a character of pure invention or simply a heretofore little known figure, one reclaimed from the dusty registers of the London Asylum by the diligent research of Karlinsky: scholar, historian, and first-rank provocateur.