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A reader's guide to This Thing Of Darkness

Updated Friday 1st June 2007

Darwin and FitzRoy all at sea - their voyage is fictionalised in Harry Thompson's This Thing Of Darkness.

In 1828 a young naval officer, Robert FitzRoy, captained HMS Beagle. One of the passengers who accompanied him to Tierra del Fuego was Charles Darwin, and their expedition features in Harry Thompson’s stunning historical novel This Thing of Darkness. I have been raving about the book on the forum for some time, so am delighted to introduce it as this month’s special choice.

The title is a quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest ("This thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine"). Combining fact and fiction, the author succeeds in bringing to life the period from 1828 to 1865. For example, he conveys the harsh conditions on board ship, and the problems encountered when exploring new territories.

In many ways, the novel could be classed as a ‘ripping yarn’, but the two main characters also debate profound issues.

HMS Beagle Copyrighted image Icon Copyright:
The Beagle [Image:]

A firm friendship was established between Darwin and FitzRoy. Then, gradually, their relationship was jeopardised by their irreconcilable world views: Darwin’s theory of evolution seemed to threaten the Christian faith that was so dear to FitzRoy. Whilst Darwin’s career-path brought him success, FitzRoy suffered a series of misfortunes.

Of course, it is Charles Darwin who tends to be remembered, because of his notoriety following the publication of The Origin of Species and his subsequent fame. Thompson’s novel certainly fleshes-out our image of the man.

However, the person who remains etched in the reader’s mind long after the book’s ending is the remarkable Robert FitzRoy. He is a true hero: his talent, chivalry and integrity shine through.


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