[According to the Prince, the] ordinary crowd was the work of Nature, and might well be descended from monkeys, as Darwin maintained, despite Holy Scripture. But the chosen few had some higher origin, and were descended, if not from gods, then at least from heroes related to them. (149)]
Darwinism was a major intellectual movement of the latter half of the nineteenth century, initiated by the scientific discoveries of English naturalist and philosopher Charles Darwin (1809–1882). His seminal work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), puts forward the thesis that the natural world evolves through the process of positive selection (i.e., natural selection and reproduction) of individuals best adapted to their environment while maladapted individuals are eliminated. This results in the disappearance of certain species and the emergence of new ones.
Soon, the theory found its expression in literature and journalism as, among others, a simplistic worldview that justified the exclusion of weaker individuals or groups from social life (the so-called “social Darwinism,” the ideology which focused on the “struggle for survival” – the concept present, but not of major consequence in Darwinism). Other literary reflections of the Darwinian theory included the portrayal of social life based on class struggle (Darwinism combined with Marxism) or racial and national prejudice (Darwinism with anti-Semitic, racist and nationalist overtones).
The Doll can be seen to contain echoes of the specific works by Darwin. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, for instance, inspired the descriptions of facial gestures and manifestations of physiological processes (e.g. a blush as an increase in blood supply to the cheeks). Moreover, Darwinism in its many aspects is often contemplated by Wokulski, Michał Szuman and Julian Ochocki – the characters who are interested in science or pursue it actively themselves. The discussions represented in the pages of The Doll also bring up some controversies that surrounded the philosophical current at that time. For instance, Ochocki thus expresses his admiration for Duchess Zasławska’s open mind and wide range of interests in conversation with Wokulski: I was taken aback when she once asked me to explain a point of Darwinism, which she dislikes only because it sees the struggle for existence as a fundamental law of nature (the point referred to in the Polish original is transformism – the fundamental evolutionary concept of the transmutation of species). The ironically rendered Prince (Wokulski’s partner for trading with the East) questions the application of Darwin’s theory to himself and his kind, which also highlights its social significance. Moreover, Wokulski turns out to be a Darwinian – if only in a general, simplified sense – when, on his return from the Russo-Turkish war, he says to Rzecki: Justice lies in the fact that the strong multiply and increase, and the weak perish. Otherwise the world would become a charitable institution, which would indeed be unjust.
In The Doll, Darwinism may also be associated with the “battle of the sexes” or the phenomenon of males fighting for a female of the same species. Wokulski is no stranger to the concept, which he proves in a conversation on “women’s instincts” that he holds with Baron Dalski: How can one struggle against a law of nature by which a bitch, even of the best breed, will couple – not with a lion – but with a dog? Show her a whole menagerie of the noblest animals, but she’ll renounce them all for a few dogs. Yet it is hardly surprising, for they are her species. Thus, the simplified Darwinism of The Doll inspires the use of metaphors and vocabulary related to the world of nature. Ochocki gives lectures on the prevalence of egoism in nature and the never-ending fight for survival that people are not equipped for, which allegedly fills Izabela Łęcka with dread of woods and forests. In this context, Darwinism often gives rise to novel conceptualisations, often blurring the boundaries between the world of nature on the one hand, and the world of human civilisation and culture on the other.
- Z. Szweykowski, Twórczość Bolesława Prusa, Warsaw 1972.
- L. Kołakowski, Filozofia pozytywistyczna, Warsaw 2009.