Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith

Deborah Heiligman
For ages 12 and up
Henry Holt, 2009   ISBN: 0805087214

When Charles Darwin was twenty-nine years old he began to debate with himself as to whether he should get married. On the one hand he worried that having a wife would mean that he would “have the expense & anxiety of children,” and he worried that having a family would mean that he would have less time work. For Charles was very keen to press on with the work he had begun when he went on an expedition on the HMS Beagle. There were hundreds of animal and plant specimens to sort through and study, and he had all kinds of ideas that he wanted to get down on paper. Surely having a wife and children would interfere with this valuable work?

On the other hand it would be grand to have someone to talk to, someone who would be a “constant companion.” Also Charles was fond of children and he thought that he might like to have some of his own.

In the end Charles chose to get married, and the lady he chose to ask was a Miss Emma Wedgewood. Emma was a gentle quiet soul who was well read, played the piano, and had a considerable intellect. Charles worried about asking her because unlike him, Emma was a religious person. Charles knew that he was going to write a book that might offend religious people. How would a wife who believed in the tenets of the Christian faith react to this?

Charles needn’t have worried. Emma agreed to marry him, and she accepted him for who he was. Though she did at times worry about his lack of faith during their long marriage, she did her best to believe that this was not a terrible thing. Theirs was a strong and lasting union that was full of love and respect.

In this excellent biography Deborah Heiligman not only tells the stories of Charles and Emma Darwin’s lives, but she also shows her readers how the Darwins coped with the fact that they were poles apart when it came to religion. Readers may be surprised to discover that the rather stern looking Charles was a tender and loving man who adored his children and who grieved terribly when several of them died when they were still very young.

Packed with quotes from Charles and Emma’s books, letters, and journal notes, this is a love story that will charm and delight readers.