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Biological Discourses

The Language of Science and Literature Around 1900


Edited By Robert Craig and Ina Linge

The relationship between biological thought and literature, and between science and culture, has long been an area of interest by no means confined to literary studies. The Darwin Anniversary celebrations of 2009 added to this tradition, inspiring a variety of new publications on the cultural reception of Darwin and Darwinism. With a fresh scope that includes but also reaches beyond the «Darwinian» legacy, the essays in this volume explore the range and diversity of interactions between biological thought and literary writing in the period around 1900.

How did literature uniquely shape the constitution and communication of scientific ideas in the decades after Darwin? Did literary genres dangerously distort, or shed critical light upon, the biological theories with which they worked? And what were the ethical and social implications of those relationships? With these broad questions in mind, the contributors consider the biological embeddedness of human nature, perspectives on sexual desire, developments in racial thinking and its political exploitation, and poetic engagements with experimental psychology and zoology. They also range across different literary traditions, from Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands, to Britain and the USA. Biological Discourses provides a rich cross-section of the contested relationship between literature and biological thought in fin-de-siècle and modernist cultures.

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4 The Monist Novel as Site of Female Agency: Grete Meisel-Hess’s Die Intellektuellen (1911) (Godela Weiss-Sussex)


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4    The Monist Novel as Site of Female Agency: Grete Meisel-Hess’s Die Intellektuellen (1911)


This chapter discusses the German-Jewish author Grete Meisel-Hess’s 1911 novel Die Intellektuellen (The Intellectuals) in the context of post-Darwinian biologistic ethics and Wilhelm Bölsche’s literary aesthetics. Embracing monist philosophy and following a didactic programme of providing positive models of behaviour in literature, Meisel-Hess endows her female protagonists with remarkable social and sexual agency and reproductive responsibility. An ambivalent picture emerges, however, as her Jewish characters’ life choices also reflect the restrictive aspect of biologistic – and eugenic – thinking.

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