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.

Who is Thomas Darwin?

Errata to the Insomniac edition

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The Evolution of Inanimate Objects The Life and Collected Works of Thomas Darwin (1857-1879) A novel by Harry Karlinsky

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“An incredible work of the imagination. A revolutionary novel.”
Lee Henderson, author of The Man Game and The Broken Record Technique.

Karlinsky’s retelling of Darwinian family history is ingeniously wry and original. Prepare to be moved, amused and duped when you enter this quasi Victorian World.”
Essie Fox, Author of The Somnambulist.

“Just when you think there’s nothing new to be done with the novel, along comes a book that pushes the form in a fresh direction. Harry Karlinsky’s extraordinary book slyly and playfully blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction, asking where one begins and the other ends. The Evolution of Inanimate Objects is the work of a genuinely original imagination, a complete pleasure and like no other book you have ever read.”
John Harding, author of Florence & Giles

“The Evolution of Inanimate Objects invites us to surrender, for a few hours, the distinction between biography and fiction, reason and delusion, the organic and the contrived–and what sly fun ensues!”
Joan Thomas, author of Curiosity and Reading by Lightning

“Harry Karlinsky has produced an extraordinary artifact, a novel disguised as closely researched history, so carefully constructed and convincingly made that we believe in the sad, amusing, story as if it were fact. The book is wonderfully imagined; it is a romp, a mine of information, and a refined pleasure.”
Dr. Vivian M. Rakoff, Professor Emeritus, Dept of Psychiatry, University of Toronto

“This fascinating historical narrative succeeds not only in creating a convincing nineteenth century British-Canadian psychiatric milieu peopled by engaging characters, but also in delivering incisive comment — often satirical — on important themes and issues.”
Dr. Paul Potter, History of Medicine, University of Western Ontario

“A radical novel that, among other things, vividly recreates Dr. R.M. Bucke, one of Canadian history’s true eccentrics.”
       George Fetherling, author and editor of more than 50 books, including Walt Whitman’s Secret

“I was completely taken by the story. It is a compelling read that takes the reader into another historical dimension, and suspends belief. The unlikely story of the evolution of cutlery even becomes plausible. In brief, it is a good and captivating read, solidly set within an historical context of great interest.” 
       Dr. Keith Benson, an historian of biology and past Principal
       of Green College at University of British Columbia