Darwin and the Nautical Gothic in William Hope Hodgson’s The Boats of the ‘Glen-Carrig’

Luz Elena Ramirez


Set in the 1750s, Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig’ is narrated by English traveler John Winterstraw who recounts to his son the story of shipwreck and the crew’s subsequent entrapment in the ‘weed continent'.

In comparing Charles Darwin’s explanation of adaptation and the struggle for existence and William Hope Hodgson’s presentation of strange ecologies in The Boats of the ‘Glen-Carrig’, one is struck by the fact that there is a shared vision and vocabulary; correlations between the two writers that help us see that if species undergo striking changes in order to survive, as explored in Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle (1845), Origin of the Species (1859) and Insectivorous Plants (1875), then Hodgson’s Boats of the Glen Carrig argues the same idea in 1907 about plants and animals found in the ‘weed continent.’ Both Darwin and Hodgson express curiosity about Nature’s oddities in their study of transitional ecologies, particularly those surrounding the sea.

This essay provides an overview of Boats, surveys the sea monster imagery and ancient storytelling traditions that seem to have inspired this nautical tale, and then joins an emerging scholarly conversation to delve into the novel’s distinctly Darwinian perspective. This approach, I hope, will help us understand that in its contribution to the nautical gothic, Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig’ engages, equally, its cultural ancestors as well as turn of the century scientific discourse.

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