We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more

E-book purchase
Choose a subscription

Downloaded copy on your device does not expire. Includes 4 years of Bookshelf Online.


Where applicable, tax will be added to the above price prior to payment.

E-book purchasing help


Genetics and the Literary Imagination

Clare Hanson

Publication Date - July 2020

ISBN: 9780198813347

224 pages
8.0 x 5.3 inches

In Stock


Oxford Textual Perspectives is a series of informative and provocative studies focused upon literary texts (conceived of in the broadest sense of that term) and the technologies, cultures, and communities that produce, inform, and receive them. It provides fresh interpretations of fundamental works and of the vital and challenging issues emerging in English literary studies. By engaging with the materiality of the literary text, its production, and reception history, and frequently testing and exploring the boundaries of the notion of text itself, the volumes in the series question familiar frameworks and provide innovative interpretations of both canonical and less well-known works.

This is the first book to explore the dramatic impact of genetics on literary fiction over the past four decades. After James Watson and Francis Crick's discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 and the subsequent cracking of the genetic code, a gene-centric discourse developed which had a major impact not only on biological science but on wider culture. As figures like E. O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins popularised the neo-Darwinian view that behaviour was driven by genetic self-interest, novelists were both compelled and unnerved by such a vision of the origins and ends of life. This book maps the ways in which Doris Lessing, A.S. Byatt, Ian McEwan, and Kazuo Ishiguro wrestled with the reductionist neo-Darwinian account of human nature and with the challenge it posed to humanist beliefs about identity, agency, and morality. It argues that these novelists were alienated to varying degrees by neo-Darwinian arguments but that the recent shift to postgenomic science has enabled a greater rapprochement between biological and (post)humanist concepts of human nature. The postgenomic view of organisms as agentic and interactive is echoed in the life-writing of Margaret Drabble and Jackie Kay, which also explores the ethical implications of this holistic biological perspective. As advances in postgenomics, especially epigenetics, provoke increasing public interest and concern, this book offers a timely analysis of debates that have fundamentally altered our understanding of what it means to be human.


  • Explores the profound impact of genetics on literary fiction over the past 40 years
  • Strongly interdisciplinary, combining expertise both in the history of biology and in contemporary fiction
  • Uses material from the archives of Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan to offer novel interpretations of key texts
  • Draws on Catherine Malabou's innovative philosophical analysis of epigenetics and cloning

About the Author(s)

Clare Hanson, Emeritus Professor of English, University of Southampton

Clare Hanson is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Southampton. She is author and editor of 11 books including A Cultural History of Pregnancy: Pregnancy, Medicine and Culture 1750-2000 (Palgrave, 2004), Eugenics, Literature and Culture in Post-war Britain (Routledge, 2012), Katherine Mansfield and Psychology (with Gerri Kimber and Todd Martin, Edinburgh UP, 2016), and The History of British Women's Writing Vol 9, 1945-1975 (with Susan Watkins, Palgrave, 2017).


"Her analysis is insightful and her prose... is extremely readable. Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty." -- E. R. Baer, Gustavus Adolphus College, CHOICE

Table of Contents

    Introduction: The Secret of Life
    1. Doris Lessing's Evolutionary Epic
    2. A.S. Byatt's Biological Reason
    3. Ian McEwan: the Literary Animal
    4. Clone Lives: Eva Hoffman and Kazuo Ishiguro
    5. Postgenomic Histories: Margaret Drabble and Jackie Kay

Related Titles