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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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10 Scientific and Gothic Constructions of the Degenerate, Racial ‘Other’: Reading the Abject in Florence Marryat’s The Blood of the Vampire (1897) and H. Rider Haggard’s She (1887) (Aisha Nazeer)


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10  Scientific and Gothic Constructions of the Degenerate, Racial ‘Other’: Reading the Abject in Florence Marryat’s The Blood of the Vampire (1897) and H. Rider Haggard’s She (1887)


Through examination of two late Victorian novels, read alongside nineteenth-century medical and anthropological writings, this chapter seeks to scrutinize the role of the relationship between literature and science in the perception and construction of racial difference. By investigating how both discourses draw upon a Gothic lexicon, fin-de-siècle depictions of the feminized racial ‘Other’ will be analysed in view of Victorian fears of miscegenation, new gender and sexual identities, and degeneration. Both Florence Marryat’s novel The Blood of the Vampire (1897) and H. Rider Haggard’s novel She (1887) are read in this chapter as typical examples of late Victorian Gothic texts which incorporate medico-scientific theory in order to diagnose and pathologize the destabilizing threat of racial difference. This threat will be explored in light of Julia Kristeva’s concept of the abject, to reveal the essential role of the Gothic in defining the strict boundaries between normal and abnormal, healthy and diseased, White and ‘Other’.

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