Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Christopher Keep


This dissertation investigates the heightened interest in heredity as a biological inheritance that arises after the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and how this interest intersects with concerns about class mobility and the shifting social order. Within this framework, this project considers how heredity became a means of organizing and regulating bodies in keeping with what Michel Foucault terms bio-power. It unearths the cultural work within literary and scientific writings as they respond to narratives of self-help and self-improvement by imagining heredity as a means of stabilizing the social order, and by extension the nation, at the very moment that it was undergoing significant change. This project highlights the shared ideological concerns behind both literary and scientific narratives.

This study begins by examining Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret for how this sensation novel, published so soon after Origin reflects the tension between hereditary determination and the figure of the self-made man. The second chapter on George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda explores the limits and possibilities of biological inheritance as expressed within the confines of the realist novel. The third chapter turns to Francis Galton’s work on heredity, exploring how his scientific research and program of eugenics are underscored by a desire to develop a narrative for British progress. The final chapter focuses on two eugenic romance novels—Ménie Muriel Dowie’s Gallia and Grant Allen’s A Splendid Sin—that reflect how biopolitical concerns enter the domestic space by transposing biological inheritance onto the framework of financial inheritance.