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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Charles and Emma, written by Deborah Heiligman. Henry Holt, 2005. $20.95 ages 12 and up

"The summer of 1839 was one of anticipation - happy and anxious. Emma and Charles anticipated the arrival of their first child, and Charles anticipated the reaction to his first book. They both felt sick most of the time, too. Emma suffered from morning sickness and other discomforts of pregnancy; Charles had headaches and was often nauseated."

Charles Darwin was a most interesting man. And, he was definitely a planner. It is interesting that following his extended trip on the Beagle, he began to give thought to the idea of marriage. In doing so, he made a 'pros' and 'cons' sheet to help him determine the trajectory for his future. When his lists were completed, he noted that both lists were of about the same length; however, the reasons for marrying seemed much more appealing than those against it.

Once he decided that marriage would be his chosen path, it took time and a good deal of patience to find the right woman. Besides that, he had one huge question to pose to his father about his concerns for his future. He wondered how he would tell the woman he chose to marry about his religious doubts. Since his father experienced those same doubts, he suggested that he not say anything about them. As sons are wont to do when they ask for parental advice and don't like it, he ignored his father.

Darwin's scientific work had him disbelieving the story of creation espoused by the Bible and its proponents. He was sure that his discoveries about evolution would render him unmarriageble in the eyes of most women. Most believed in the Bible's view of creation and he was sure that they would want their husbands to do the same. In an evening visit with Emma, he told her everything. Emma was a believer but didn't see that their difference of opinion should cause any problems for their future together. She did not want him to stop his studies. She did hope that he would be able to believe in Jesus and honor her love for him. He agreed, and the two were able to live their married life with love and respect, despite their differing views.

They had hurdles to leap, but they managed to live a happy, fulfilled life together. What I loved about reading Deborah Heligman's account of the Darwins was her ability to make this polished biography read like a novel. My interest in them never wavered and I grew to honor their ability to deal with their differences with such tolerance and understanding. As he wrote and asked her to read 'The Origin of the Species', the conversations must have been difficult and yet, I always felt that their open mindedness about those differing beliefs was laudable.

Emma was first to read his writing and with her questions encouraged him to think more clearly about what he wanted to say. His arguments were made more logical through her careful consideration of the text. He had serious thoughts about the world he lived in, and he wanted his learning to help teach others. In giving equal time to both the religious and scientific views, the author allows her readers to think seriously about their own view of the world.

"Charles Darwin left an unparalleled legacy to science. He gave future generations of scientists "a theory by which to work." His theory will continue to evolve. The debate between evolution and religion continues, too. He and Emma would certainly say that people from both worlds should keep talking to each other." That is what they did.

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