In 2009 we asked Dame Gillian Beer DBE to comment on her current work and ideas that have influenced her…

Which of your own ideas have you been thinking about most recently?
Most recently I’ve been thinking about Darwin’s visceral responsiveness to music and to all the arts during the period in which he was first forming his theory (a responsiveness that later died away completely). I’ve been exploring how those seemingly lost experiences enter his late books such as Descent of Man and Expression of the Emotions.

What idea of someone else has made most impact on you recently?
Sean B Carroll’s work on how form and pattern emerges and how DNA leads on to diversity has most impressed me recently: Endless Forms Most Beautiful (2005), The Making of the Fittest (2006) and now, which I’ve not yet read, Remarkable Creatures(2009).

What is the most important book/article of ideas that everyone should read and why?
The Winter’s Tale seems to me to tell us all essential things about destructive emotions and renewal, possible and impossible, across generations.

Further information/

Dame Gillian Beer DBE was King Edward VII Professor at the University of Cambridge. Her books include Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and 19th Century Fiction, Virginia Woolf: the Common Ground and Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter. A third edition of Darwin’s Plots with new material is appearing at the end of March 2009.