Romanticism, Origins, and the History of Heredity

Christine Lehleiter

338 pages
ISBN 9781611485653
New Studies in the "Age of Goethe"

Also available in paperback:
ISBN: 978-1-61148-623-0

At the turn of the eighteenth century, selfhood was understood as a "tabula rasa" to be imprinted in the course of an individual's life. By the middle of the nineteenth-century, however, the individual had become defined as determined by heredity already from birth. Examining novels by Goethe, Jean Paul, and E.T.A. Hoffmann, studies on plant hybridization, treatises on animal breeding, and anatomical collections, Romanticism, Origins, and the History of Heredity delineates how romantic authors imagined the ramifications of emerging notions of heredity for the conceptualization of selfhood. Focusing on three fields of inquiry - inbreeding and incest, cross-breeding and bastardization, evolution and autopoiesis - Christine Lehleiter proposes that the notion of selfhood for which Romanticism has become known was not threatened by considerations of determinism and evolution, but was in fact already a result of these very considerations. Romanticism, Origins and the History of Heredity will be of interest for literary scholars, historians of science, and all readers fascinated by the long durée of subjectivity and evolutionary thought.


"From the growth of biotechnologies to controversies about epigenetics, evidence of a renewed anxiety concerning the line between biological and social life is present everywhere on the global stage. Christine Lehleiter's Romanticism, Origins, and the History of Heredity is a genealogical intervention in these debates. Its wealth of fascinating documentary material from the present as well as from the period of its focus (around 1800) is complemented by a central insight: that the problem of the autonomous self and the bounds set on it by heredity reveals that pre-Darwinian cultural techniques and their symbolic negotiations are at least as fascinating for our current worried discourse as are those more familiar strains of thought that stretch from high imperialism to fascism."
-Leif Weatherby, New York University; German Studies Review (40.1), 2017

"This work has the potential to change the landscape of Romantic literary studies, and its careful attention to scientific accuracy will let it serve as a model for those scholars who wish to make a serious contribution to the broad field defined by intersections of literature and science."
- Jocelyn Holland, University of California-Santa Barbara, Monatshefte, Vol. 108, No. 2, 2016

"This important and original work of literary history and criticism tackles a question that still concerns us today: to what extent does our genetic inheritance determine who we are?.... Combining modern history of science, literary criticism, and meticulous research, this study offers numerous new insights into how Romanticism approached the issue of mind and body."
- Linda Dietrick, University of Winnipeg; Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies; Vol. 51, No. 3 (2015)

"A fascinating and illuminating book."
-Jenny Davidson, Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, Volume 56, Number 3, Summer 2016

About the author:

Christine Lehleiter is assistant professor of German at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on literature and the life sciences.


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