It’s Alive! Or not. Just because a highly intriguing, informative and amusing book — in its Darwinian take on fiction — merges science and literature, doesn’t mean that biologists analyzing belles-lettres has led to the creation of a literary Frankenstein. Neither are evolutionary biologists, sociobiologists, behavioral ecologists, Darwinian anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists — like angry villagers raising reading lights aloft and storming University English Department ivory towers — going to be demanding the replacement of Derrida texts with DNA tests in their efforts to explore the nature of human nature.
“Our intent,” notes authors David P. Barash and his daughter Nanelle R. Barash of Madame Bovary's Ovaries: A Darwinian Look At Literature, "is not to sweep away any current literary theories in favor of science,” but to provide “a useful tool to add to each reader’s kit.” In a twofold manner, they extend the concept that people are biological creatures sharing a universal, evolved nature - and add to this premise the principle that evolutionary psychology, in discovering a wealth of information about human behavior, offers much in the way of gratifying and worthy insights into the world of fiction as well as fact.
In their accessible, conversational style and straightforward approach to a new and, as they admit, a controversial study, the Barashes’ aim is to describe some key ideas in modern Darwinian behavioral biology and explain how they apply to and thrive in literature. Furthermore, main chapter topics on such writers, titles and characters as Othello, Jane Austen, Gone With The Wind, Madame Bovary, The Godfather, Cinderella, The Three Musketeers, Catcher In The Rye, Portnoy’s Complaint, and Of Mice and Men are used as springboards to segue into similar and other relevant subjects — creating a diverse and widely-encompassing work.
In illustration of this branching-out, the examination of sexual selection, or choice of mates, starts off centering on Jane Austen, “poet laureate of female choice,” whose novels, such as Pride and Prejudice, explore “universally acknowledged” truths about single men in want of a wife and the jockeying of social and material positioning that goes on in the name of hypergamy, or “marrying up.” The Barashes maintain that the young ladies in Austen’s novels look for a husband with much the same criteria as female animals do in their seeking of a mate. “Call them,” the authors state, “the three goods: good genes, good behavior, and good stuff. In other words, looks, personality, and money, although not necessarily in that order.”