Darwin Behind the Scenes


The exhibition offers an opportunity to delve into the hidden world of Charles Darwin's private correspondence and to discover what Darwin and his correspondents' letters can tell us about the man behind the beard: Where did his ideas came from? Who and what influenced his work? How did Darwin's image in the press compare with the man known to his family, friends and colleagues?

It focuses on correspondence exchanged in relation to the writing and publication of two of Darwin's major works; The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).


The exhibit has been compiled by two research associates on the Darwin Correspondence Project; Dr Philippa Hardman who is research associate on the theme of ‘Darwin and Gender’ and Dr Sophie Defrance, research associate on the theme of ‘Darwin and Human Nature’.


1: Introduction

2: Making Descent Decent

It is often assumed that scientists deal in cold, objective fact. Even works of science, however, are a product of the culture in which they are produced.

3: Darwin's Workforce

Darwin is often represented as a solitary scientist but his correspondence reveals that he was, in fact, one of history’s great collaborators.

4: Was Descent Decent?

Did Darwin and his collaborators succeed in producing what was by Victorian standards a respectable work of science?

5: Making Expression of the Emotions

The expression of emotions was something that interested Darwin long before he published on it. He spent almost forty years thinking, taking notes and inquiring about the expression of emotions, gathering observations and anecdotes from the most remote places on earth as well as from his own domestic surroundings.

6: Photography and Publishing Strategies

Expression of Emotions contains mores illustrations than any of Darwin’s other books. It is Darwin’s only work to feature photographs or include pictures of people. It was, in fact, one of the first scientific books with photographs, using a new printing process called ‘heliotype’. Darwin’s editor Murray warned that this “would poke a terrible hole in the profits”.

7: Emotional responses

How did Darwin’s book change perceptions of animals – and humans?

8: Conclusion