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Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection$
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Evelleen Richards

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226436906

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226437064.001.0001

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Good Breeding: The Art of Mating

Good Breeding: The Art of Mating

(p.159) Six Good Breeding: The Art of Mating
Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection

Evelleen Richards

University of Chicago Press

Chapter 6 deals with Darwin’s immersion in the practices of animal breeders and pigeon fanciers and his reconstitution of the notion of aesthetic preference by artificial selection. It is argued that, faced with the problematic of useless or potentially harmful male beauty in birds, Darwin shifted from an early inclination towards the dominant male role in any process of sexual selection to the realisation that, in animals, females generally must play the role of selector. He had to go against entrenched opinion in attributing not just a sense of beauty to animals, but further to insist that this aesthetic was primarily exercised through female sexual preference. His own thoroughgoing identification of the process of aesthetic choice with the discriminating, artistic eye of the breeder was a stumbling block to the notion of analogous female choice in nature. Female choice, already a challenging concept for a Victorian, was made doubly so for Darwin, confronting the seeming contradiction of extending the masculine, manipulative art of breeding to the sexual preferences of female animals.

Keywords:   artificial selection, aesthetic preference, male beauty, male selection, female sexual preference, female choice, art of breeding, pigeon fanciers, animal sense of beauty

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