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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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11 Narratives of Helminthology: Thomas Spencer Cobbold, Bram Stoker, and The Lair of the White Worm (1911) (Michael Wainwright)


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11  Narratives of Helminthology: Thomas Spencer Cobbold, Bram Stoker, and The Lair of the White Worm (1911)


In 1862, at British Association for the Advancement of Science, Thomas Spencer Cobbold argued ‘in favour of a more extended prosecution of experimental research in the department of human helminthology’. Thanks to Cobbold’s exhortation, the subject started to flourish in Britain, and within two years, he could report that ‘no department of Natural History science has attracted more attention than that of the study of internal parasites’. Yet, one of the gatekeepers to the lay community, a discursive controller from the arts, John Ruskin, fought to maintain the British taboo on parasitology; in consequence, human invermination remained a taboo in the wider discursive community. This chapter breaks that silence in drawing on the discursive history of parasitology to unmask hidden but telling literary delineations of helminthic infestation in the works of an author environed by and alerted to the parasitic, the discourses and practices of medicine, and parasitology: Bram Stoker.

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