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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Genius, womanhood and the statistical imaginary : 1890s heredity theory in the British social novel Beavis, Zoe Gray


The central argument of this thesis is that several tropes or motifs exist in social novels of the 1890s which connect them with each other in a genre, and which indicate a significant literary preoccupation with contemporary heredity theory. These tropes include sibling and twin comparison stories, the woman musician’s conflict between professionalism and domesticity, and speculation about biparental inheritance. The particulars of heredity theory with which these novels engage are consistent with the writings of Francis Galton, specifically on hereditary genius and regression theory, sibling and twin biometry, and theoretical population studies. Concurrent with the curiosity of novelists about science, was the anxiety of scientists about discursive linguistic sharing. In the thesis, I illuminate moments when science writers (Galton, August Weismann, William Bates, and Karl Pearson) acknowledged the literary process and the reading audience. I have structured the thesis around the chronological appearance of heredity themes in 1890s social novels, because I am arguing for the existence of a broader cultural curiosity about heredity themes, irrespective of authors’ primary engagement with scientific texts. Finally, I introduce the statistical imaginary as a framework for understanding human difference through populations and time, as evidenced by the construction of theoretical population samples – communities, crowds, and peer groups – in 1890s social fictions.

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