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I had the shotgun in my mouth


The Origin of Species: 'The dirtiest book I've ever read'
Redmond O'Hanlon Writer
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[Q] What did science seem to you... what excited you about it?

Oh, it was just the deepest possible excitement, because everything that I was looking at contravened directly the extraordinarily strong, hard, absolutely unmoving beliefs of my father and mother. And it was... you know, I read the Origin of Species with a torch in my bed. That was far... Jesus, get caught with that? I don't know, well, probably Men Only didn't exist then, but that sort of thing, that's fine, you know. Even Christians do that. But to read this. That's... I mean, it made it the most... the dirtiest book I've ever read. It was... it just gave wild excitement. I mean, everything I heard in biology, I thought, 'Well, if I repeated that at home, I'd be'... well, not sent to my room by then, but probably banned from...

I mean, they really could not take it. Oh yes, and of course some writers were absolutely out. Terrible atheists. Like Conrad was the number one. And Hardy. Terrible anti-Christian writers. In later life, my old man, he liked... he liked reading Hardy, but he'd lost his push by then.

So that's why I wrote about Conrad and Darwin, probably. Which they never acknowledged. In fact, my father only... well, he's 97 now, but yes, last month, he said, to my brother, who was visiting him. I was at the festival in Ireland. He said, 'He's very sad that if he had his way, if only he could have burned all the editions, every single copy of anything that I had written, he could die happy'. So there you are.

[Q] Your father said that to your brother?

Yes, my older brother, yes.

[Q] What did you think of that?

It made me pretty miserable for a couple of days. You know, as I say, I try and keep it as a compliment. What I really want to do is tell Olga. I haven't seen Olga since...

[Q] Olga the psychiatrist?

Olga, yes. Yes. So I mean, you know, they may be his dying words. And my mother made a sort of... all my books, apparently... I never saw it, in the flat they lived in, before they went to a home. And he said he couldn't bear to go in that room with these books of an atheist in there. How could she do such an ungodly thing?

British author Redmond O’Hanlon writes about his journeys into some of the wildest places in the world. His travels have taken him into the jungles of the Congo and the Amazon, he has faced some of the toughest tribes alive today, and has sailed in the hurricane season on a trawler in the North Atlantic. In all of this, he explores the extremes of human existence with passion, wit and erudition.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Marlborough School, Wiltshire Downs, Savernake Forest, On the Origin of Species, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy, Charles Darwin

Duration: 3 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: July - September 2008

Date story went live: 11 August 2009