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Biological Discourses

The Language of Science and Literature Around 1900


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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6 Cryptogamic Kissing: Adalbert Stifter’s Novella Der Kuss von Sentze (1866) and the Reproduction of Mosses (Michael Eggers)


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6    Cryptogamic Kissing: Adalbert Stifter’s Novella Der Kuss von Sentze (1866) and the Reproduction of Mosses


As late as 1851, the German botanist Wilhelm Hofmeister discovered that the recreational pattern of an alternation of generations, which had first been observed in lower animals like jellyfish, also applies to mosses and ferns. Organisms that procreate according to this pattern alternate between asexual and sexual generations. Hofmeister’s discovery facilitated the scientific reception of Darwin’s theory to a large degree. This chapter shows that this botanical law is a scientific subtext of Adalbert Stifter’s novella Der Kuss von Sentze (The Kiss of Sentze, 1866). The social structure of the noble Austrian family of Sentze and its kissing rituals are analogous to the reproductive techniques of the mosses that the protagonists study and collect.

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