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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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8 Botanical Perversions: On the Depathologization of Perversions in Texts by Alfred Döblin and Hanns Heinz Ewers (Linda Leskau)


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8    Botanical Perversions: On the Depathologization of Perversions in Texts by Alfred Döblin and Hanns Heinz Ewers


The following chapter offers a reading of Alfred Döblin’s novel Der schwarze Vorhang (1912), his short story Die Ermordung einer Butterblume (1910), and Hanns Heinz Ewers’s novel Alraune (1911).1 All three texts were published at the beginning of the twentieth century, a period which was characterized by mutual exchanges of knowledge between literature and science, such as sexual science, which became an important topic during this time. Therefore, the chapter’s principal focus is on the various interrelations between sexual science – as it is portrayed in Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis – and these literary texts. Döblin’s as well as Ewers’s works directly address these intertwining relations between literary writing and sexuality by using different approaches to articulate sexual ‘abnormality’ through botanical imagery. The chapter closes by investigating the extent to which these texts’ botanical imagery reflects the depathologization of sadism and masochism as perversions within sexual-scientific discourses in the German-speaking world of the early twentieth century.

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