Tess of the d'Urbervilles Historical Context

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Darwin and Social Darwinism

The last fifty years of the nineteenth century saw innovations in science and technology that changed society to a greater degree than ever before. The theory of evolution popularized by naturalist Charles Darwin in his On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, published in 1859, had enormous cultural implications. The idea that humans were descended from apes changed accepted views of religion and society. It shook belief in the Biblical creation story and. therefore, all religious beliefs. It shocked the Victorians (those who lived during the reign of the British Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901) to think that their ancestors were animals. They glorified order and high-handedness, and thought themselves, as British subjects, the pinnacle of culture.

To make Darwin's theory more palatable, a complementary theory called Social Darwinism was formulated. Proponents of this social philosophy argued that Darwin's ideas of "survival of...

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