Thesis ID: CBB001561018

Pathological Relations: Heredity, Sexual Selection, and Family in the Victorian Novel (2012)


Anderson, Melissa Jeanne (Author)

Richards, Robert John
University of Chicago

Publication Date: 2012
Edition Details: Advisor: Richards, Robert J.
Physical Details: 218 pp.
Language: English

This project explores the evolution of the concept of heredity in the Victorian novel and how this concept helped shape both the novelistic depiction of women and family life and also the form and structure of certain domestic novels. By starting with some of Charles Dickens's later texts, continuing through key George Eliot novels, and ending with the work of George Meredith, we see the concept of heredity develop narratively as theories of evolution, natural selection, eugenics, and related ideas were developed scientifically. In addition, we witness the concept of heredity mobilized and adapted to question Victorian beliefs about the family, marriage, and women's roles. Finally, we discover how novelists used contemporary work in genealogy, eugenics, and hybridity in an attempt to grasp at the meaning of heredity and expose its subversive potential as well as its potentially disturbing implications. Most of the novels discussed in this project contain deep narrative tensions that have proven problematic to readers and critics since they were first published, and these tensions seem to be linked to the cultural complexities theories of heredity introduced to Victorian constructions of the family. These scientifically-based theories were significant for certain key Victorian novelists since they were themselves based on a narrative of change, they could be stretched to allow questioning of the centrality of the male in familial history, and they were fluid enough for authors to imbue them with explanatory power beyond their original boundaries. The novelists examined in this work-Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and George Meredith-did not participate openly in the scientific debates of the late Victorian period, but all three were well-enough versed in contemporary scientific work to mobilize these concepts in key texts about the role of women in the Victorian family. By looking closely at how the concept of heredity functions in key Victorian novels, we can gain new insight into how they function as texts and their role in the changing form of the novel in the late nineteenth-century, and we can better understand the rapidly changing context of the woman in late Victorian culture.


Description Cited in ProQuest Diss. & Thes. (2012). ProQuest Doc. ID 1027145672.

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Authors & Contributors
Opitz, Donald Luke
Evans, Samantha
Christensen, Andrew G.
Brown, Julia P.
Opitz, Donald L.
Veuille, Michel
Victorian Studies
Comptes Rendus Biologies
Canadian Bulletin of Medical History/Bulletin Canadienne d'Histoire de la Medecine
19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century
University of Washington Press
St. Martin's Press
Dartmouth College Press
Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Boston University
Michigan State University
Science and literature
Science and society
Sexual selection
Darwin, Charles Robert
Darwin, Emma Wedgwood
Rayleigh, Robert J. Strutt, 4th Baron
Huxley, Thomas Henry
Hooker, Joseph Dalton
Hardy, Thomas
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
21st century
20th century
18th century
Great Britain

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