Plot Counter Plot: Genetics and Generic Strain in the Modernist Novel of Formation

Daniel Aureliano Newman
McGill University

Historically, modernism coincides with the rise of modern genetics, which undermine and complicate but also enable positive new visions of the individual. Modern (Neo-Darwinian and Mendelian) genetics differ from earlier hereditary theories by positing a radical division between the operations of inheritance (at the molecular level) and the processes of individual development (at the somatic level). This basic division inheres in modernist Bildungsromane that engage thematically with reproduction and heredity; their dominant plot of individual development is therefore supplemented with a more or less antagonistic plot of genealogical continuity. In such genic novels, as I call this group of Bildungsromane, the two plots interact dialogically, producing formal disturbances to the linear, progressive plot of self-formation and enabling the possibility of real development for characters once barred from the ideals of Bildung. The essay links the modernist origins of the genic novel to its growing presence in contemporary literature.

KEYWORDS: Modernism, Bildungsroman, Development, Reproduction, genetics, August Weismann, Gregor Mendel

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