‘Carrying Her Coyness to a Dangerous Pitch’: Mathilde Blind and Darwinian Sexual Selection

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The poet and novelist Mathilde Blind (1841–96) is known to have been influenced by evolutionary theory, particularly in her epic poem The Ascent of Man (1889). However, critics have not yet noted the extent to which her depictions of the courtship plot in her less overtly evolutionary writings are indebted to Darwin's representations of animal mating rituals. Although Darwin's commentary on patterns of relationships in the animal world often reinforced stereotypes of masculine aggression and feminine coyness, feminist writers, including Blind, shifted the focus onto creatures, such as birds and spiders, whose mating behaviour disrupts these stereotypes. This article examines four pieces in which Blind re-imagines the courtship plot by applying imagery of other species to human relationships: her poems ‘The Song of the Willi’ (1871), The Heather on Fire (1886) and ‘The Teamster’ (1889), and her novel Tarantella (1885). By rewriting the courtship plot in this way, Blind contests the idea that middle-class gender relations are sanctioned by the natural world and highlights the variety of possible gender roles found in other species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-89
Number of pages19
JournalWomen: A Cultural Review
Issue number1
Early online date24 Dec 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Mathilde Blind
  • Darwin
  • evolution
  • sexual selection
  • Victorian poetry
  • feminism
  • gender


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