Nora Barlow: a tale of a Darwin granddaughter

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Author: Louis M. Smith
Date: Fall 2012
From: Vitae Scholasticae(Vol. 29, Issue 2)
Publisher: Caddo Gap Press
Document Type: Biography
Length: 6,559 words

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Editor's Introduction

Over the past several years Louis M. Smith, esteemed educational ethnographer and Professor Emeritus at Washington University in St. Louis, has been working on a biography of Nora Barlow, granddaughter of Charles Darwin. Nora Barlow performed an educative function by becoming one of the founders of the so-called "Darwin Industry," as scholarship and writings on Charles Darwin is now called. Barlow's work on Darwin occurred relatively late in life. It includes four books: one during her 50s, one in her 60s, one in her 70s, and the last in her 80s. (1) Smith has published two previous articles on Nora Barlow in Vitae Scholasticae, one focusing exclusively on Nora Barlow's artistry as an editor, (2) and the other on writing biography. (3) The latter outlined decisions Smith made in organizing a specific chapter of the Barlow biography. In the current article, "Nora Barlow: The story of a Darwin Granddaughter," Smith provides another take on Nora Barlow's life, this time discussing the intellectual and contextual forces that led to Barlow's scholarly productivity.

The Problem

Charles Darwin had nine grandchildren, all of whom were raised in Cambridge. The extended family was part of the tradition that Noel Annan called "the intellectual aristocracy," (4) suggesting that over the prior century certain families had tended to intermarry, and that these families, many of whom were educated at Oxford and Cambridge, dominated the intellectual life of England in the arts, sciences, and literature. Darwin himself exemplified the tradition by marrying a Wedgwood of pottery fame. Nora Darwin Barlow, Charles' granddaughter and the subject of this essay, became by birth one of the intellectual elite. When she married Alan Barlow her children became part of the same tradition. These events create one of the complexities of the conditions that would help and hinder the development of Nora Barlow's intellectual life as a biological scientist, as editor of four major books dealing with the voyage of the Beagle and other aspects of Darwin's life, and as one of the founders of what is now called "the Darwin Industry." Instead of simply the tale of Nora Barlow, her story becomes "the tale of a Darwin granddaughter."

This essay fleshes out images from Nora Barlow's early life and traces the transition to her remarkable late-in-life editing accomplishments. Much of this discussion accents the context and events that facilitated or hindered her intellectual development.

Strands: An Initial Conceptual Resolution

As I began to move from the myriad of the particulars of the data in letters, interviews, essays published and unpublished, I fumbled toward making a larger interpretation of Nora Barlow's life. Conceptually her life seems to be a cluster of strands that flowed together, that changed in emphasis and importance over time, and that had variations in centrality.

The major strand that I want to focus on, and that ebbed and flowed in importance but was always there, is an intellectual strand, involving her early work in biology that continues with the life and biological thought of Charles...

Source Citation

Source Citation
Smith, Louis M. "Nora Barlow: a tale of a Darwin granddaughter." Vitae Scholasticae, vol. 29, no. 2, 2012, p. 58+. Accessed 18 May 2021.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A314650854