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Written in 1862 by the Reverend Charles Kingsley, The Water-Babies tells the story of a young chimney sweep called Tom who finds redemption amongst the pulsing life of the open ocean when he is transformed into an aquatic creature. Church of England vicar and former pop star Reverend Richard Coles dives beneath the surface of this children's classic to reveal the revolutionary science behind the story, the influence it had on social reform in Victorian England, and how the author's racist viewpoints impacted its reputation.Charles Kingsley was a man of endless contradictions - as changeable as the tide. He was a passionate outdoorsman who had to lock himself away during bouts of depression; an inspirational public speaker who suffered from a lifelong stammer; a social reformer who distrusted democracy; and a sensitive scholar with the instincts of a street-fighter. And his most famous book, The Water-Babies, is every bit as eccentric and utterly compelling as he was.Richard finds out how the book was born out of a sense of outrage at the suffering of young sweeps, and how its popular success led to a change in the law. He grapples with the dark side of The Water-Babies, exploring how the book's 'muscular Christianity' was tainted by racial prejudice. And he discovers how, at the same time, Kingsley's classic contained a sense of feminine spirituality seemingly at odds with whiskery Victorian stereotypes.Richard meets author and geneticist Prof Steve Jones to discuss the close friendship between Charles Kingsley and Charles Darwin, whose On the Origin of Species Kingsley had been one of the first to praise. He also talks to fellow Church of England priest Reverend Marie-Elsa Bragg about the book's mystical, mysterious side, and visits the Hampshire rectory where Kingsley wrote the first chapter of the work in half an hour under the insistence of his young son.

Episode Title: The Water-Babies
Airs: 2016-07-11 at 22:00