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Inventing the Cave ManFrom Darwin to the Flintstones$
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Andrew Horrall

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781526113849

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9781526113849.001.0001

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Darwin, Du Chaillu and Mr Gorilla: the lions of the season

Darwin, Du Chaillu and Mr Gorilla: the lions of the season

Chapter:
(p.30) 2 Darwin, Du Chaillu and Mr Gorilla: the lions of the season
Source:
Inventing the Cave Man
Author(s):

Andrew Horrall

Publisher:
Manchester University Press
DOI:10.7228/manchester/9781526113849.003.0002

This chapter explores how Charles Darwin’s 1859 book On the Origin of Species and the explorer Paul Du Chaillu’s almost simultaneous encounters with gorillas in West Africa focussed popular fears about evolution. Gorillas were a frightening suggestion that apes and humans were related, and that ancient hominids might still inhabit the unexplored parts of the Earth. Scientists and theologians publicly and angrily confronted each other, providing satirists with the basis for cartoons, songs, plays, stage sketches, acrobatic routines and literary fantasies about gorillas. These reflected a generalised knowledge about evolution. Cartoons, poems and jokes in humorous magazines adopted the gorilla’s voice, making the animal quasi-human and having it comment directly on the contemporary world. The almost invariably humorous tone in which gorillas were invoked in British popular culture deflected unease about the animal’s relationship to humans. Such ideas were far more threatening in the United States, where debates about the future of slavery were plunging the country into Civil War. Americans had little interest in comic depictions of simian prehistoric humans.

Keywords:   burlesque, Darwin, evolution, Paul Du Chaillu, gorillas, Thomas Henry Huxley, minstrel shows, Oxford debate, Punch magazine, slang, Samuel Wilberforce

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