My article on queer interpretations of Darwin in the poetry of Mathilde Blind, Constance Naden, and Laurence Hope has just appeared in Victorian Poetry. The article looks at how three late-Victorian poets uncovered queer possibilities in Darwin’s writings on nature, and is inspired by the work of the late Sam See.
“Queer Poetry and Darwin at the fin de siècle: Mathilde Blind, Constance Naden, and Laurence Hope”
In her 1895 poem “Spring in the Alps,” Mathilde Blind celebrates the joyful, unapologetic queerness of dandelions:
The dandelion puffs her balls,
Free spinsters of the air,
Who scorn to wait for beetle calls
Or bees to find them fair;
But breaking through the painted walls
Their sisters tamely bear,
Fly off in dancing down, which falls
And sprouts up everywhere.(ll. 17–24)1
Through these anthropomorphized “spinsters,” Blind merges two different accounts of reproduction from Charles Darwin’s works. The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (1868) discusses spontaneous plant budding, while The Descent of Man (1871) describes how male animals vie for females’ attention through display, dance, and song.2 Yet here, on this “lusty green” (l. 2), it is the spinster dandelion who “puffs her balls” in display, not to solicit a mate’s attention, but for her own pleasure. The seeds “Fly off in dancing down” in language that hints at Darwin’s male suitors, but heterosexual reproduction is not the aim of this performance. The poem uncovers the queer possibilities of nature, possibilities that celebrate nonreproductive desire while defying, even “scorn[ing],” the male / female binary found in the Descent.