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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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The publication of this volume was supported by grants from the Association for German Studies (AGS) and the German Endowment Fund of the Department of German and Dutch at the University of Cambridge. We are extremely grateful to both for making the volume possible.

We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to all our contributors. We thank them for all their hard work and patience throughout the editing process, and for helping to make the work on this volume such an enriching and enjoyable experience.

Biological Discourses grew out of an international, interdisciplinary conference that took place on 10 and 11 April 2015 at St John’s College, University of Cambridge. The conference was supported by grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Schröder Fund (Department of German and Dutch, University of Cambridge). We would like to thank them for their generous support, without which we would not have been able to host such an inspiring gathering of presenters and delegates from far and wide. The conference was organized by the editors of this volume and David Midgley, Annja Neumann, and Godela Weiss-Sussex. They sparked the conversation around the theme of ‘biological discourses’, and helped to craft the programme that became the book. Angus Nicholls’s excellent conference commentary, in turn, helped us to decide what kind of book we wanted to produce.

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