Standard Article

Heredity and the Novel

  1. Lennard J Davis1,
  2. Michelle Jarman2

Published Online: 15 MAR 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005869.pub2



How to Cite

Davis, L. J. and Jarman, M. 2012. Heredity and the Novel. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. 1

    University of Illinois, Chicago, Illinois, USA

  2. 2

    University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 MAR 2012


The concept of heredity, as represented throughout the history of the novel, may be further illuminated by certain discoveries of the modern science of genetics. Since the novel's origin, authors have explored cultural beliefs and anxieties around heredity, nobility, bloodlines, birthrights and ‘tainted’ lineages. As modern genetics grows increasingly sophisticated, novelists engage in more complex ethical questions ranging from genetic selection and manipulation to reproductive choice and hereditary ‘rights’. In science fiction genres, themes can expand into human enhancement, species destruction and creation. Yet even as contemporary works engage in the complex new science and bioethical questions that grow out of genetic research, contemporary writers remain fundamentally interested in exploring what genetic knowledge and technology means within the context of intimate human relationships.

Key Concepts:

  • Since the origin of the novel, authors have engaged with hereditary themes.

  • Changing historic notions about heredity are reflected in novels of those periods.

  • Works of literature are important sites of investigation into public perceptions of emergent scientific ideas about heredity.


  • heredity;
  • novel history;
  • bloodlines;
  • nobility;
  • eugenics;
  • degeneration;
  • racial theories;
  • genetics;
  • prenatal screening;
  • genetic manipulation