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Race and Biology

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter reminds us that, amid the surge of interest in eugenics, were the ‘countervailing’ voices of writers such as Mona Caird, William James, and the anthropologist Franz Boas. These thinkers contested biological and racial determinism’s apparent hegemony, even while many of their contemporaries like Ibsen, Hardy, and Gissing were ‘creatively entangled’ in deterministic discourses around heredity, race, and biology. The chapter examines the centrality of these widely circulating discourses to the development of eugenic ideas in this period. It also explores the typological resources granted to writers, both to voice such deterministic ideas and to offer points of resistance through the different subject positions that their texts could adopt.

Keywords: eugenics, determinism, heredity, race, biology, typology, Ibsen, Hardy, Caird, Boas


The period 1880‐1920 saw the emergence and then the qualified effacing of powerful discourses of racial essentialism and biological determinism in a period which was profoundly influenced, even mesmerized, by the authority of Darwinian science. This chapter examines how these widely circulating discourses were integral to the development of eugenic ideas in this period, and explores how they gave writers typological resources both to voice such deterministic ideas and to offer points of resistance through the different subject positions that their texts could adopt.

Given the tenacious persistence of these ideas in Britain after the First World War, and on to the terror of the Holocaust, it is valuable to note examples of countervailing critical perspectives. In 1936 the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset declared that ‘[m]an has no nature. What he has is history’.1 Such a ʻcritique of the biologization of national identity’, as Marius Turda puts it, is articulated by contrarians, such as the novelist Mona Caird, the philosopher William James, or the anthropologist Franz Boas, each of whom, for different reasons, contested the hegemony that forms of biological and racial determinism apparently commanded.2

But sceptics could coexist with believers. While in the Edwardian period Sidney Webb was exercised by the degenerative effects of ‘interbreeding’, for his fellow Fabian socialist, Sydney Olivier, this ‘held the key to a strong, organic community’.3 Indeed, recent scholarship has accentuated that the history and reception of the theory and practice of eugenics is not one of ‘linear shift from unqualified support (p. 322) to unqualified resistance’, but is actually a more intriguing story of ‘simultaneous enthusiasm and disquiet’.4

In a line drawn from the rationalist ideals of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, late-Victorian scientists saw themselves in a struggle to wrest cultural and moral authority from the church. By cultivating forms of positivist knowledge, replacing tired theology with emancipatory investigation of the laws of nature, they hoped to usher in a more rational, orderly society. Here was a narrative fitting the aspirations of the rising middle classes, uncertainly poised between an established aristocracy legitimized by inherited privilege and the growing political presence of the increasingly organized masses. Founder of eugenics Francis Galton, harrier of Jewish immigrants Arnold White, and scientific writer and romancer H. G. Wells each saw their mission to inform in this light. Eugenics offered a science which would both reorder society to head off these sources of degeneracy, and legitimize the very technicist values by which they positioned themselves as upwardly mobile ‘coming men’ at the cutting edge of ideas of societal development, rooted in the ‘Enlightenment myth of human perfectibility’.5

The growing prestige of science could be located in changing attitudes to race. ‘[T]he alliance of quantification and evolution, with its obsessive measuring and ranking of racially “other” bodies’, as Lucy Bland suggests, was ‘central to the development of “scientific” racism’.6 By the mid-nineteenth century, the ‘inequality of races’ theory propounded by Gobineau and Knox was accompanied by a growth in comparative anthropometric techniques which, when allied to developments in ethnology and anthropology, placed the investigation of race on an ever more scientific footing. ‘[T]he central meaning of race had narrowed down to a differentiation of peoples based on physical difference and away from the looser usage linked to nation, language, genealogy or culture’.7 ‘[A]ttitudes to race’, Regenia Gagnier suggests, were changing from an ‘older recognition of likeness or universalism’ towards growing ‘intolerance of difference’.8

(p. 323) Determinism and essentialism: The uses of biology

The late nineteenth century saw an equivalent scientific turn in the new prestige accorded to literary naturalism and its leading exponent Émile Zola. While few novelists of this period ‘stood dumb before the vastness of the conception and the towering height of the ambition’, as did George Moore,9 each, to a greater or lesser extent, entered protracted debates over the place of ‘realism’ and ‘naturalism’ in literature, prompted by cultural or ideological affiliation or by aesthetic resistance to Zola’s injunction (in his 1880 essay ‘Le Roman Expérimental’) that novelists should ‘operate with characters, passions, human and social data as the chemist and physicist work on inert bodies, as the physiologist works on living bodies’.10

Naturalist writers, if nothing else, privileged the processes of causation in their texts, stressing their complexity and multiplicity (as Strindberg does in his 1888 Preface to Miss Julie). However, few of them shared Zola’s faith in the systematic representation of the core determinants of heredity and environment, embodied in his twenty novels tracing their reproductive consequences for a single family, Les Rougon-Macquart. Zola’s extrapolation of evolutionary theory was Lamarckian in that characteristics (such as propensity to criminality, alcoholism, or prostitution) acquired through exposure to the environment were shown to pass to the next generation as inheritable qualities.11

Contemporary writers were creatively entangled in the deterministic languages of heredity, even if they were less than frank about acknowledging the influence of Zola himself. In Ibsen’s Ghosts (1881), Oswald’s tertiary syphilis is ‘inherited’ from his debauched father. However, subsequent research showed that ‘[t]here is no such thing as hereditary syphilis … if a new-born baby has syphilis it is because it has been handed over from mother to the foetus as an infectious disease’.12 But the idea (p. 324) of inheritance is still crucial to the larger meaning of the play: the ‘ghosts’ which haunt Mrs Alving and her son are not only the ‘invisible spirochetes of syphilis, but the internalized and virulent prohibitions of religion and bourgeois morality’.13

The apparently authoritative aetiology of inherited weakness promiscuously categorizes the ‘other’ as degenerate. Both Ibsen and Hardy understand this as a form of patriarchal control, perpetuating rigid, defensive, self-serving attitudes. In Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (1879), banker Torvald Helmer, afraid of losing his respectable position, invokes the idea of hereditary degeneracy to stigmatize his wife as the bearer of her ‘father’s irresponsible ways’.14 Ibsen’s ironic treatment here exposes both the doubtful authority of the speaker (unmasked as both self-interested and fearful), and the claims to scientific authority of the discourse itself. Hardy’s Angel Clare, discovering that Tess is a fallen woman, condemns her in terms of familial degeneracy as ‘an exhausted seedling of an effete aristocracy’. But Hardy voices Tess’s counterposition addressing the loss of selfhood such an ascription implies: ‘[W]hat’s the use of learning … that there is set down in some old book somebody just like me, and to know that I shall only act her part; making me sad, that’s all.’15

In Ghosts Pastor Manders, spotting some volumes on her table, berates Mrs Alving for possessing what he suspects are advanced books, but which, she says, are ‘the sort of thing’ that make her ‘feel, as it were, more confident’.16 This ‘sort of thing’ could have included popular medical works such as the Malthusian The Law of Population (1877) by Annie Besant. British 1890s audiences for Ibsen’s play might well have identified works like H. A. Allbut’s The Wife’s Handbook (1886) or J. M. Guyau’s Education and Heredity (1891). Such handbooks, aimed at prospective parents, warned of the hereditary transmission of degeneracy. Sarah Grand, whose novel The Heavenly Twins (1893) features a marriage ruined by inherited syphilis, sounds like Mrs Alving when she writes that ‘[a]ll my little knowledge of the social questions I feel so strongly about I have collected from observation and medical books’.17

For the increasingly eugenically minded middle classes, a certificate of health for prospective married partners was deemed as important as the marriage certificate itself. As H. A. Allbutt suggested in The Wife’s Handbook (1886), women or their parents should ‘demand a recent certificate of freedom from syphilis from (p. 325) all men proposing marriage’.18 For Grant Allen in The Woman Who Did (1895), far better that a healthy baby be born outside wedlock than an unhealthy baby born in it. The inherited consequences of the contaminated marriage bed were no more starkly expressed than in Emma Frances Brooke’s A Superfluous Woman (1894): ‘on those frail, tiny forms lay heavily the heritage of the fathers. The beaten brows, the suffering eyes, expatiated in themselves the crimes and debauchery of generations’.19

Much New Woman fiction is written with pronounced eugenic urgency, as if anxious to escape the shadow cast by male ‘vice’.20 In M. M. Dowie’s Gallia (1895) the eponymous heroine seeks positive eugenic, racial health: ‘[i]f I were to fall in love again it might be with someone … who would not be fine and strong and healthy, and of good stock. As it is … I shall marry solely with the view to the child I am going to live for.’21 Gallia naturally chooses a healthy and virile male, but on strict eugenic principles, eschewing her romantic attraction to a man of lesser stock.

New Woman writers varied in their treatment of eugenics, ascribing differing importance to maternal influence. While novelists such as Brooke and Grand were implicitly essentialist, radical feminists, such as Mona Caird, believed that mothers made the mistake of ‘privileging the future over the present … valuing life primarily as it signified race continuity’.22 As Angelique Richardson notes, the preoccupation of New Woman fiction with eugenic themes contributes to its aesthetic limitations. In having ‘to be entertaining as well as didactic … the novel required characters to change, or at least develop, in order to retain the reader’s attention: eugenic ideology did not allow such flexibility’.23 And Elaine Showalter has argued that ‘[w]hile male writers explored the multiplicity of the self … women were limited by the revived biological essentialism of post-Darwinian thought’.24

(p. 326) Yet writers on the New Woman did bring into focus a ‘complex relationship between feminism, biology and biological essentialism’,25 from which a modernizing sexual politics could be forged. In stories such as ‘A Cross Line’ and ‘The Spell of the White Elf’ (both from Keynotes, 1893), George Egerton made the question of biological essentialism problematic. Yet in a reviving of the ‘reproductive body’, following concerns about physical and mental deterioration of the race from the turn of the century, ideological pressure, not least from civic-minded women themselves, enjoins women to redefine maternity as a matter of duty to the imperial state.26 They are urged on by positive eugenicists like C. W. Saleeby who in 1912, in response to the pressing claims of the suffragette movement, urged women not to desert the ranks of motherhood but to ‘furnish an ever-increasing proportion of our wives and mothers, to the great gain … of the future’.27 While the suffragettes were ambivalent about eugenic ideas, with the campaign for reproductive rights not yoked to eugenic solutions, for many middle-class women, as Wendy Kline notes in the American context, eugenic ideas held considerable appeal as a way to ‘modernize morality by casting it as a racial and reproductive concept’.28

‘Fatal fertility’

Ideas of eugenics proceeded by locating a ‘dominant ethnic group as the repository of the nation’s racial qualities’ and ‘pursuing biological, social and political means to assess and eliminate the factors seen as contributing to its degeneration’.29 Such a bio-politics easily elided categorizations of the racially ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ with the socially valuable and disposable. One such categorization centred on the urban ‘residuum’, a ‘section of the urban population … both superfluous to the local labour requirements and biologically or morally incapable of productive labour’.30 Here was ‘one of a new set of social subjects’ which, once identified and categorized, would become ‘potential objects for state concern’.31 The endlessly circulated idea of urban degeneration installed the idea that, in their dark recesses, cities harboured (p. 327) an uncontrollable, degenerative fecundity. This became an effective way of displacing onto biological categories middle-class anxieties about the growing prominence of the urban working class. George Gissing showed, in his early novels of the 1880s, that he was not immune from affiliating class with biologically lower forms of life. In The Unclassed (1884), the degraded environment of ‘Litany Lane’, in an East End slum, is captured in the figure of Slimy, his monstrous appearance calculated to induce a frisson of moral panic about the atavistic nature of ‘residuum’: ‘a very tall creature, with bent shoulders, and head seeming to grow out of its chest … [h]e had laid on the counter, with palms downward as if concealing something, two huge hairy paws’.32

Concerns about the quantity and quality of the population grew through the nineteenth century. Thomas Malthus’s key idea in his immensely influential An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) was that population expanded exponentially, whereas the means of subsistence (including food production) increased only arithmetically, so leading to scarcity, poverty, and premature death. From Malthus’s perspective, as Patrick Brantlinger puts it, ‘mass starvation was just nature’s—and Providence’s—way of righting the balance in a society reeling from its own … lack of foresight and restraint’.33 While the earnest members of the Malthusian League called for smaller families (which meant addressing the issue of contraception), eugenicists worried about the overall decline in fertility of the British race and wanted to discourage ‘fatal fertility’ among the eugenically undesirable. The statistician Francis Galton believed that Malthusian checks on population growth (war and disease as well as famine) had failed. Believing that the ‘blind mechanism of natural selection could and should be brought under control’,34 he looked to hereditarian rather than environmental causes, proposing the science of eugenics in his landmark study, Inquiries into the Human Faculty and its Development (1883). For Galton the ‘less eugenically desirable varieties’ were outbreeding ‘those whose race we especially want to have’.35 The idea of differential fertility which was to gain such extraordinary prominence in biological and racial thinking over the next forty years, was now installed.

The differential birth rate between classes was of increasing concern, particularly given the overall decline in the national birth rate. Family size in late-Victorian Britain averaged 6, but fell to 3.4 in 1910 and to under 3 by 1914. To the alarm of commentators, the steep decline in the fertility of middle-class families was not matched in those of the working class. Charles Booth found a birth rate of 43 per thousand in London’s poor districts, compared to 13.5 per thousand in the most affluent districts of the city.36 Poverty was all too apparent in a society without (p. 328) universal welfare provision, experiencing fast-rising unemployment that reached over 10 per cent in the mid-1880s. By the turn of the century, as concern grew for the multiplication of the unfit in the wake of concern about fitness of military recruits for the Boer War, 28 per cent of the population of York, according to B. S. Rowntree’s Poverty: A Study of Town Life (1901), were deemed to be living in poverty.37

At the intersection of these concerns—the fitness of the British race; concerns about imperial rivalry and competition; the existence of poverty at the ‘heart’ of Empire—were Jewish immigrants to Britain who from the 1880s sought refuge, mainly in London’s East End, from the pogroms of Eastern Europe.38 The fact that the East End of London came to be ‘freighted with the most acute of contemporary anxieties’ gave it a metonymic significance for ‘discontents that were both more widespread and significant’, and to which Jewish immigration had become central.39 Of course, stereotypes of Jews as ‘representatives of alien materialism’ abounded in the last decades of the century: Du Maurier’s manipulative Svengali, in Trilby (1894); Wilde’s ‘hideous’ theatre manager with his ‘greasy ringlets’, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891);40 and many popular melodramas, cartoons, and postcards.41

Opposition to Jewish immigration came from racist polemicists, such as Arnold White, W. H. Wilkins, and William Evans Gordon, but also from Ben Tillett, the dockworkers’ leader. Their persistent campaigning led to a Royal Commission on Alien Immigration (1903), which paved the way for the controversial Aliens Act (1905) designed to exclude ‘undesirable aliens’, plausibly interpreted as Jewish immigrants, from entering the country. Anti-Semitic discourse of this period assimilated Jewish immigrants to the prevailing discourse of urban degeneration to account for both their fertility and their degraded state, in a fusion of biological and racial categories that turned on the paradox by which adaptation to lower conditions of life heralded a darkly Darwinian success story. For Lord Dunraven: ‘[t]hey can feed off the offal of the streets, and live in conditions in respect of indecency, dirt and overcrowding, incompatible with existence to an Englishman … It is the comparative indestructibility of the lower over the higher order of organism.’42 In The Time Machine (1895), H. G.Wells pushed this idea to a dystopic extreme, when, drawing on Darwinian shock tactics channelled through ‘scientific romance’, he offered a vision of a devolutionary future in which a race of successfully adapted, (p. 329) subterranean ‘Morlocks’ preys upon the race of Eloi—‘decayed to a beautiful futility’ as ‘mere fatted cattle’.43

Surplus to requirements

Superfluity, as a matter of economics rather than biology, is directly addressed in Gissing’s The Nether World (1889). John Hewitt, head of an ironically labelled ‘Superfluous Family’, bitterly recounts how he has failed to gain employment: ‘[w]ell I went … If there was one man standin’ at Gorbutt’s door, there was five hundred! … What was the use o’ me standing there?’44 In the same novel, Gissing captures a spectacle of humankind in the Clerkenwell slums: ‘squalid houses, swarming with yet more squalid children. On all the doorsteps sat little girls … nursing or neglecting bald, red-eyed, doughy-limbed abortions in every stage of babyhood, hapless spawn of diseased humanity’.45 ‘Spawn’ here yokes, naturalistically, nurture and nature, environmental and biological causation. The trope of degraded fecundity mixes with astute observation of how material pressures define the abject condition of the ‘superfluous’ poor. The plot of the more programmatically naturalist text, Liza of Lambeth (1897), Somerset Maugham’s story of a working-class, South London street, describes the tragic consequences of unwanted procreation. Unaided by her incapable mother, Liza dies from a miscarriage, a consequence of an unsought pregnancy out of wedlock. The situation of the young and poor mothers that Liza embodies would soon be ripe for intervention by the British state through legislation as it navigated its eugenic turn out and beyond the First World War through to Marie Stopes’s figure of ‘Mrs Jones’, who in the ‘mean streets’ of the city, in 1919, is, through her fertility, busy ‘destroying the race’.46

For Hardy, the overproduction of babies is assimilated to his examination of the disjuncture between ‘natural’ and ‘social’ law throughout his later fiction. When Tess discovers that her mother is pregnant again she feels ‘Malthusian vexation with her mother for thoughtlessly giving her so many little sisters and brothers, when it was such a trouble to nurse those that had already come’. Her own baby, ‘Sorrow the Undesired’, dies a premature death, ‘a bastard gift of shameless Nature who respects not the social law’.47 The protagonist’s son in Jude the Obscure (1895), Little Father Time, confronted by yet another mouth to feed, exacts his tragic, Malthusian retribution—‘[d]one because we are too meny’.48 Another preternaturally sensitive (p. 330) boy, Stevie, in Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907) is made ‘angry’, by the habitual ‘harrowing tales’ of his sister Winnie’s charwoman, Mrs Neale, ‘oppressed by the needs of many infant children’.49 Significantly, Stevie is allowed to compete for attention alongside his sister, and the narrator: the innocence of his anger is a form of answering back to the inexplicability of the persistence of scarcity, poverty, and deprivation—Malthusian and degenerationist diagnoses, both of which are exposed in the novel as bogus and self-serving.

Being ‘surplus to requirements’ is a persistent theme in texts of this period. Caught up in debates about national degeneration ‘in the context of the Boer War debacle and mounting complaints about plummeting fertility’50 is the questionable fitness, and so superfluity, of the adolescent or young male, represented in E. M. Forster’s ‘A Story of a Panic’ (1904) or J. M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World (1907). In The Longest Journey (1907), Forster pursues the idea of the male figure surplus to the requirements of the bourgeois social order in the neo-tragic victim Rickie Elliot, or in the unclassifiable Stephen Wonham. Stephen’s creative eccentricity battles with the coercive power and patriarchal authority exercised by the petty headmaster Herbert Pembroke for whom men like Stephen need to be ‘tidied up’. Pembroke’s sister, Agnes, wishing that ‘a man like that ought never been born’, invests heavily in typecasting Stephen as ‘other’: he is ‘illicit, abnormal, worse than a man diseased’.51

Eugenics and the state

Forster and Lawrence reach for more ambitious frames of reference in sharp, ideological confrontation with accepted social power founded on unquestioning patriarchy and moral censoriousness (underpinned by a Social Darwinian commitment to fitness), requiring a coercive marking out of the unacceptable ‘other’. The Wilcoxes in Forster’s Howards End (1910) live out these values in pursuit of Helen Schlegel who, late in the novel, is living in self-imposed exile from her family who are unaware that she carries an illegitimate baby by the (now unemployed) clerk, Leonard Bast. Increasingly an object of concern, she is lured back to England on a pretext, her condition thought to warrant mental treatment. The narrator ventriloquizes Henry Wilcox’s damage-limitation strategy: ‘[t]he sick had no rights … one could lie to them remorselessly … the plan that he sketched out for her capture, clever and well-meaning as it was, drew its ethics from the wolf-pack.’52

(p. 331) As the Edwardian state becomes involved in organizing private life, with ‘the birth of healthy children … viewed less as an exclusively private matter’,53 the idea of the nation and the unthinking patriotism required to sustain it is also placed under greater scrutiny. Like Forster, D. H. Lawrence dissents from the psycho-military complex. In The Rainbow (1915) he anatomizes the project of imperial regeneration by challenging the viewpoint of the army officer, Anton Skrebensky, through his lover, Ursula Brangwen: ‘ “What do you fight for, really?” “I would fight for the nation”. “For all that, you aren’t the nation. What would you do for yourself?” ’54 Against Skrebensky’s apparently common-sense assertion, Lawrence plays Ursula’s persistent scepticism: these contrasting subject positions allow Ursula’s terms of self-determination to expose Skrebensky’s willingness to be read as sign and symptom of ‘the nation’; for him, selfhood makes sense only in relation to the hegemony of the imperial state which now seeks an ‘organic solution to the crisis of reproduction, from “above” ’.55

One attempt at such a solution was a Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded which concluded that mental deficiency was an inherited condition, capable of being passed on, so installing ‘a eugenic approach to higher grade mental defects, including so-called “feeblemindedness” ’.56 Following the first International Conference on Eugenics (University of London, 1912), a Mental Deficiency Bill, passed into law in July 1913, allowed local authorities to detain and segregate the ‘feebleminded’. ‘Defectives’ subject to this legislation included ‘not only paupers and habitual drunkards but women on poor relief at the time of giving birth to, or being found pregnant with, an illegitimate child’.57 Kurtz’s chilling call in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) to ‘exterminate all the brutes’58 was a sentiment not confined to imperial adventurers in the African interior who had ‘gone native’, but was also circulated in the ‘heart of Empire’, its discursive double.

While the sterilization of the unfit failed to gain assent in Britain, the idea, and worse, was commonplace in talk among exasperated intellectuals who should have known better.59 The ‘lethal chamber’, originally intended for the disposal of stray animals, is a menacing material presence in writing sympathetic to negative eugenic policies. While liberal-minded eugenicists like Saleeby distanced themselves from (p. 332) such prescriptions, the ‘efficiency men’ were less fastidious.60 In 1910 Shaw advocated measures including ‘killing a great many people whom we now leave living’ through ‘extensive use of the lethal chamber’.61 Wells had set the tone in 1901 when he wrote that the ‘ascendant’ nation of the future will be the one which ‘most resolutely picks over, educates, sterilizes, exports, or poisons its People of the Abyss’.62 ‘They should certainly be killed’, Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary of a ‘long line of imbeciles’, while Lawrence envisaged a ‘lethal chamber as big as Crystal Palace’ for the disposal of ‘the sick, the halt and the maimed’.63

War and after

Soon after the ‘war machine’ started to dispose of the fittest and finest, rather than types of the unfit, the eugenic establishment was quick to point out the dysgenic implications: ‘the cream of the race will be taken and the skimmed milk will be left’, predicted Eugenics Review in 1914.64 But writers could see the war in a different light. In ridiculing the intrusive effects of the notorious Defence of the Realm Act, Rose Macaulay’s brave What Not: A Prophetic Comedy (1918) satirized a eugenic state with its policies for ‘the encouragement and discouragement of alliances in proportion as they seemed favourable or otherwise to the propagation of intelligence in the next generation’. Following the discovery that the minister in charge ‘dares to dictate to the people of Britain who they may marry and what kids they may have … then goes and gets married himself … and hushes it up’, the ministry is burnt to the ground in an act of public defiance.65

Yet the war actually seemed to galvanize racial and eugenic consciousness in the immediate post-war years.66 In 1919 the settling in Britain of Indian and Caribbean sailors provoked race riots, prompting concerns about miscegenation, hybridity, and the dysgenic consequences of ‘race-crossing’ with ‘distant’ races.67 The crossing of boundaries between races, which so disgusts Tom Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgeralds’s The Great Gatsby (1925), disturbed high modernists too. The sensibility (p. 333) and aesthetic practice of T. S. Eliot, for example, is freighted with the weight of racial and biological anxieties of the previous forty years. Whatever else there is to be said about Eliot’s racism, in particular the offensive anti-Semitism of his Poems (1920), The Waste Land, and other writings,68 the continuities between his deployment of racial and biological tropes and established eugenic discourse is certainly striking. The continuing belief in the inheritance of acquired characteristics, the differential birth rate, the trope of superfluity, the categorization and differentiation of groups defined by their identity as racial products—none of this is at the cutting edge of thinking by 1920. When Eliot speaks of contemporary cinema in 1922 as ‘cheap and rapid-breeding’,69 his appalled sense of the degenerate vitality of the cultures of modernity is performed in thoroughly conventionalized bio-social terms.

And the war had a further consequence. New, effective forms of treatment for victims of shell shock, which relied less on the psychiatric Darwinism (so scathingly anatomized, in 1925, by Woolf in Mrs Dalloway) and more on techniques ‘designed to get patients to re-live and re-experience painful “emotional memories” … buried from consciousness’, helped prompt widespread interest in the talking cure and in Freudian analysis and its application more generally, in the post-war years.70 In this new climate, Lawrence would come to characterize Clifford Chatterley in Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) as a paralysed, rather than syphilitic, patriarch. The passage, then, from Sarah Grand’s late-Victorian Evadne, beset by the dysgenic consequences of marital sex in The Heavenly Twins, to Connie Chatterley’s ultra-modern enjoyment of non-marital sexual pleasure was just one indication of the lessening grip on literature of the discourses of racial and biological determinism, despite their all-too-evident cultural resilience.71

Further Reading

Bar-Yosef, Eitan and Nadia Valman (eds). ‘The Jew’ in Late-Victorian and Edwardian Culture (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).Find this resource:

    Bashford, Alison and Phillipa Levine (eds). The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).Find this resource:

      (p. 334) Brantlinger, Patrick. Dark Vanishings: Discourse on the Extinction of Primitive Races, 1800–1930 (New York: Cornell University Press, 2003).Find this resource:

        Burdett, Carolyn and Angelique Richardson (eds). ‘Eugenics Old and New’ (special issue), New Formations 60 (Spring 2007).Find this resource:

          Childs, Donald J. Modernism and Eugenics: Woolf, Eliot, Yeats, and the Culture of Degeneration (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).Find this resource:

            Glover, David. Literature, Immigration and Disapora in Fin-de-Siècle England: A Cultural History of the 1905 Aliens Act (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).Find this resource:

              Greenslade, William. Degeneration, Culture and the Novel 1880–1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994 [2010]).Find this resource:

                Kevles, Daniel. In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (London: Pelican, 1986).Find this resource:

                  Larson, Edward. ‘The Rhetoric of Eugenics: Expert Authority and the Mental Deficiency Bill’, British Journal of the History of Science 24/1 (1991), 45–60.Find this resource:

                    Platt, Len (ed.). Modernism and Race (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).Find this resource:

                      Richardson, Angelique. Love and Eugenics in the Late Nineteenth Century: Rational Reproduction and the New Woman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).Find this resource:

                        Showalter, Elaine. ‘Syphilis, Sexuality and the Fiction of the fin de siècle’, in R. B. Yeazell (ed.), Sex, Politics, and Science in the Nineteenth-Century Novel (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 88–115.Find this resource:

                          Soloway, R. A. ‘Counting the Degenerates’, Journal of Contemporary History 17/1 (1982), 137–64.Find this resource:

                            Szreter, Simon. Fertility, Class and Gender in Britain 1860–1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).Find this resource:

                              Turda, Marius. Modernism and Eugenics (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).Find this resource:


                                (1) Quoted by Marius Turda, Modernism and Eugenics (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 13.

                                (2) Turda, Modernism and Eugenics, 13.

                                (3) David Stack, The First Darwinian Left: Socialism and Darwinism 1859–1914 (Cheltenham: New Clarion Press, 2003), 109.

                                (4) Philippa Levine and Alison Bashford, ‘Introduction’, in Bashford and Levine (eds), The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 19. Bashford and Levine’s volume, together with Marius Turda’s Modernism and Eugenics (2010), valuably open up the international dimension of eugenics, beyond Britain, America, and Europe. Over the past twenty years there has been considerable British and American scholarship on the theory and practice of eugenics. The relationship between the ‘old’ eugenics and the ‘biotechnological revolution’ of the twenty-first century is the subject of a special issue of New Formations (60 [Spring 2007]), edited by C. Burdett and A. Richardson under the title Eugenics Old and New.

                                (5) Turda, Modernism and Eugenics, 120.

                                (6) Lucy Bland, ‘British Eugenics and “Race-Crossing”: A Study of an Interwar Investigation’, New Formations 60 (Spring 2007), 71.

                                (7) Ibid., 71.

                                (8) Regenia Gagnier, The Insatiability of Human Wants (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 106.

                                (9) George Moore, Confessions of a Young Man (1886; repr, London: Heinemann, 1926), 75.

                                (10) Emile Zola, ‘The Experimental Novel’, in The Experimental Novel and Other Essays (New York: Haskell House, 1964), 18.

                                (11) Naturalism rose and fell in Britain at about the time that Lamarckian biology was itself becoming discredited by the ‘germ-plasm’ theory of August Weismann. The debate came to a head in the early 1890s when Herbert Spencer, the leading exponent of Lamarckian biology, debated with Weismann and others in the Contemporary Review. Weismann and later turn-of-the-century geneticists under the influence of the nineteenth-century botanist Mendel narrowed the range of characteristics which Lamarckians believed could be inherited. That the anti-Lamarckians, or neo-Darwinians, were on the ascendant in the 1900s only stiffened the resolve of the eugenically minded to look to negative eugenic panaceas for racial deterioration, since the environment could no longer offer a source for a racial improvement dividend. By 1926, Julian Huxley was quite clear that the ‘[o]ld Lamarckism is dead’, arguing that ‘numerous mutations occur which assuredly have no definite relation to use or to environment… … to a great many apparently potent outer influences the germ-plasm is quite unresponsive’. See Julian Huxley, ‘The Inheritance of Acquired Characters’, in Essays in Popular Science (1926; repr. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1937), 39.

                                (12) H. Kalmus and L. M. Crump, Genetics (London: Penguin, 1948), 149.

                                (13) Elaine Showalter, ‘Syphilis, Sexuality, and the Fiction of the fin de siècle’, in R. B. Yeazell (ed.), Sex, Politics, and Science in the Nineteenth-Century Novel (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 105.

                                (14) Henrik Ibsen, Four Major Plays, ed. James Walter McFarlane (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 80.

                                (15) Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, ed. Christopher Venning and Eleanor Bron (1891; repr. London: Penguin, 2003), 126, 232.

                                (16) Ibsen, Four Major Plays, 101.

                                (17) Sarah Grand to F. H. Fisher, 22 March 1894, in Anne Heilmann and Stephanie Forward (eds), Sex, Social Purity and Sarah Grand, 4 vols (London: Routledge, 2000), II, 40–1.

                                (18) Quoted in William Greenslade, Degeneration, Culture and the Novel 1880–1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 166. The family of the actress and novelist, Elizabeth Robins, was ʻtormented by fears of hereditary mental instability brought about by intermarriageʼ, and shared ʻconcern about [Elizabeth] becoming a motherʼ. See Angela V. John, Elizabeth Robins: Staging A Life (London: Routledge, 1995), 32, 33. In Robinsʼs controversial play, Alanʼs Wife (1893), Jean Creyke murders the crippled child of a union with her racially desirable husband, Alan, who is killed in an industrial accident. Despite its ostensibly eugenic subject, the play is, in William Archerʼs words, a moving ʻlittle tragedyʼ of ʻfatalityʼ. See Archer, ʻIntroductionʼ to Alanʼs Wife (London: Henry & Co., 1893), xlii, xlvi.

                                (19) Emma Frances Brooke, A Superfluous Woman (London: Heinemann, 1894), 275.

                                (20) For her innovative treatment of the eugenic plots of New Woman fiction, see Angelique Richardson’s Love and Eugenics in the Late Nineteenth Century: Rational Reproduction and the New Woman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

                                (21) M. M. Dowie, Gallia (London: Everyman, 1993), 129.

                                (22) Richardson, ‘“ “People Talk a Lot of Nonsense about Heredity”: Mona Caird and Anti-Eugenic Feminism’, in A. Richardson and C. Willis (eds), The New Woman in Fiction and in Fact: fin-de-siècle Feminisms (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001), 207.

                                (23) Richardson, Love and Eugenics, 215.

                                (24) Showalter, ‘Syphilis, Sexuality, 110.

                                (25) Richardson, ‘The Birth of National Hygiene and Efficiency’, in A. Heilmann and M. Beetham (eds), New Woman Hybridities: Femininity, Feminism and International Consumer Culture, 1880–1930 (London: Routledge, 2004), 256.

                                (26) Gagnier, The Insatiability, 133.

                                (27) C. W. Saleeby, Woman and Womanhood (London: Heinemann, 1912), 14.

                                (28) Wendy Kline, Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom (Berkeley, CA and London: University of California Press, 2001), 23.

                                (29) Turda, ‘Race, Science and Eugenics in the Twentieth Century’, in Bashford and Levine (eds), Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics, 67.

                                (30) Simon Szreter, Fertility, Class and Gender in Britain 1860–1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 113.

                                (31) Stuart Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left (London: Verso, 1988), 108.

                                (32) George Gissing, The Unclassed (Brighton: Harvester, 1976), 66.

                                (33) Patrick Brantlinger, Dark Vanishings (New York: Cornell University Press, 2003), 106.

                                (34) Ibid., 193.

                                (35) Francis Galton, Inquiries into the Human Faculty and its Development (London: Macmillan, 1883), 21.

                                (36) R. A. Soloway, ‘Counting the Degenerates’, Journal of Contemporary History 17/1 (1982), 153.

                                (37) See Peter Keating (ed.), Into Unknown England 1866–1913 (London: Fontana, 1976), 196.

                                (38) Between 120,000 and 150,000 Jews settled in Britain between 1881 and 1914; see Eitan Bar-Yosef and Nadia Valman, ‘Introduction’, in Eitan Bar-Yosef and Nadia Valman (eds), ‘The Jew’ in Late-Victorian and Edwardian Culture (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2009), 12.

                                (39) Bar-Yosef and Valman, ‘Introduction’, 14.

                                (40) David Glover, Literature, Immigration and Diaspora in fin-de-siècle England: A Cultural History of the 1905 Aliens Act (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 94–6.

                                (41) Glover, Literature, Immigration and Diaspora, 88–93; Bar-Yosef and Valman, ‘Introduction’, 11.

                                (42) Earl of Dunraven, ‘The Invasion of Destitute Aliens’, Nineteenth Century 31/184 (June 1892), 988.

                                (43) H. G. Wells, The Time Machine (London: Penguin, 2005), 58.

                                (44) Gissing, The Nether World (Brighton: Harvester, 1974), 22.

                                (45) Ibid., 129–30.

                                (46) Marie Stopes, ‘How Mrs Jones Does Her Worst’, Daily Mail (13 June 1919); see Greenslade, Degeneration, 209.

                                (47) Hardy, Tess, 37, 96.

                                (48) Hardy, Jude the Obscure (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 325.

                                (49) Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent (London: Penguin, 2000), 175.

                                (50) Soloway, Birth Control and the Population Question in England 1877–1930 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 23.

                                (51) E. M. Forster, The Longest Journey (London: Penguin, 1989), 261.

                                (52) Forster, Howards End (London: Penguin, 2000), 241.

                                (53) Turda, Modernism and Eugenics, 60.

                                (54) D. H. Lawrence, The Rainbow (London: Penguin, 2007), 289.

                                (55) Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal, 109.

                                (56) Edward Larson, ‘The Rhetoric of Eugenics: Expert Authority and the Mental Deficiency Bill’, British Journal for the History of Science (BJHS) 24/1 (1991), 48.

                                (57) Daniel Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (New York: Knopf, 1985), 99.

                                (58) Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (London: Penguin, 2007), 62.

                                (59) Sterilization was introduced in certain US states from 1907. By the late 1920s, twenty-four states had passed sterilization proposals into law. See Richard Overy, The Morbid Age: Britain between the Wars (London: Penguin, 2009), 118; and Kevles, ‘Eugenics in North America’, in R. A. Peel (ed.), Essays in the History of Eugenics (London: Galton Institute, 1998), 216.

                                (60) Dan Stone, Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwardian and Interwar Britain (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2002), 126.

                                (61) Quoted in [Dan] Stone, Breeding Superman, 127.

                                (62) Wells, Anticipations of the Reactions of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought (London: Chapman and Hall, 1901), 21.

                                (63) Quoted in Donald J. Childs, Modernism and Eugenics: Woolf, Eliot, Yeats, and the Culture of Degeneration (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 23; quoted in John Carey, The Intellectuals and the Masses (London: Faber, 1992), 12.

                                (64) Eugenics Review 6/3 (October 1914), 197–8, with the war promising a ‘redemptive return to a biologically superior condition’ (Turda, Modernism and Eugenics, 38).

                                (65) Rose Macaulay, What Not: A Prophetic Comedy (London: Constable, 1918), 12, 222.

                                (66) See Turda, Modernism and Eugenics, 71.

                                (67) Bland, ‘British Eugenics’, 68, 67.

                                (68) Eliot’s anti-Semitism is the subject of extensive critical attention by, among others, Juan Leon, ‘Meeting Mr Eugenides: T. S. Eliot and Eugenic Anxiety’, Yeats-Eliot Review 9/4 (1988), 169–77; Christopher Ricks, T. S. Eliot and Prejudice (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988); Bryan Cheyette, Constructions of ‘the Jew’ in English Literature and Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Anthony Julius, T. S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism and Literary Form (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Childs, Modernism and Eugenics, chs 4–6.

                                (69) T. S. Eliot, ‘Marie Lloyd’, in T. S. Eliot: Selected Prose (London: Faber, 1975), 174.

                                (70) Martin Stone, ‘Shellshock and the Psychologists’, in W. F. Bynum, Roy Porter, and Michael Shepherd (eds), The Anatomy of Madness: Essays in the History of Psychiatry, 2 vols (London: Tavistock, 1985), II, 255.

                                (71) This perspective is emphasized in Overy, The Morbid Age, ch. 3.