Darwin’s correspondence reveals that his readership included both men and women. Focussing on The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (1868) alongside its associated correspondence, this exercise is designed to assess whether any gendered patterns exist in readings of, and responses to, Darwin’s publications.
Associated selected readings.
1. Are there any discernible patterns in the way that i) men and ii) women read and responded to Variation?
2. What sorts of information did men and women contribute to Variation?
3. Were the contributions of men and women referenced consistently in the published text?
4. To what extent did gender ideals influence the way that people encountered and responded to Darwin’s work?
Letter 5712 – Dallas, W. S. to Darwin, [8 December 1867]
In this letter, translator and author William Dallas sends Darwin corrections and queries about the text of Variation. He makes comments on Darwin’s content, terminology and phraseology and hopes that his work on the Index will be worthy of the “wonderful array of facts” contained in the work.
Letter 5861 – Blyth, E. to Darwin, [11 February 1868]
In this letter, Zoologist Edward Blyth sends corrects errors of fact and sends further information for the the second edition of Variation. He is glad to hear that the book is to enter a second edition “because there are a few things which must be altered”.
Letter 5928 – Gray, A. to Darwin, [25 February 1868]
In this letter, American naturalist Asa Gray writes Darwin in praise of Variation. He is not surprised at the popularity of a book “written by so notorious a writer” as Darwin. Gray also includes a number of suggestions for changes which, he says, ought to be made to the text for the second edition.
Letter 6040 – Haeckel, E. P. A. to Darwin, [23 March 1868]
In this letter, Haeckel informs Darwin that he has received an English version of Variation and German copies have now been circulating among German professors for three months. He praises Darwin’s rich knowledge, patience and care.
Letter 6110 - Samuelson, J. to Darwin, [10 April 1868]
In this letter James Samuel, editor of Popular Science Review, writes to Darwin in order to correct errors of detail he found on reading Variation.
Letter 6126 – Binstead, C. H. to Darwin, [17 April 1868]
In this letter Charles Binstead, “an ornithologist in a very small way”, writes to Darwin with his thoughts on Variation. He believes that Darwin has not observed that after mallards have been domesticated, they turn from black to white. Binstead also forwards a copy of his letter to Darwin’s publisher in case he thinks the new information ought to be included in the second edition of Variation.
Letter 6237 – Bullar, R. to Darwin, [9 June 1868]
In this letter, Rosa Bullar reports a case of a black retriever that keeps its puppies in a burrow. She notes that Darwin discussed the same phenomenon in Variation and offers to provide further information should it be required.
Letter 6335 – Innes, J. B. to Darwin, [31 August 1868]
In this letter, John Innes reports that he has read Variation “with great interest”. He does not know if he has ever been so charmed with a work of natural history. His letter includes “a memorandum or two” containing feedback on the text and a discussion of the theological impact of Darwin’s theory of “predestination of variation”.
Letter 6551 – Becker, L. E. to Darwin, [13 January 1869]
In this letter, suffragist and naturalist Lydia Becker tells Darwin that she is reading Variation with pleasure and wonder. She is particularly drawn to the chapter on pangenesis, which is a revelation.
Letter 9633 – Nevill, D. F. to Darwin, [11 September 1874]
In this letter, Dorothy Nevill tells Darwin that she has sent samples of the Utricularia with bladders attached as instructed. She is reading Variation and notes that in the section on cats Darwin makes no mention of a Siamese breed of which she “possesses a specimen”.