Eugenics, Literature, and Culture in Post-war Britain
By Clare Hanson
Routledge – 2013 – 190 pages
Routledge – 2013 – 190 pages
This book explores eugenics in its wider social context and in literary representations in post-war Britain. Drawing on a wide range of sources in medicine, social and educational policy, genetics, popular science, science fiction, and literary texts, Hanson tracks the dynamic interactions between eugenic ideas across diverse cultural fields, demonstrating the strength of the eugenic imagination. Challenging assumptions that eugenics was fatally compromised by its association with Nazi atrocities, or that it petered out in the context of changed social attitudes in an egalitarian post-war society, the book demonstrates that eugenic thought not only persisted after 1945, but became more prominent. Throughout, eugenics is defined as a cultural movement, rather than more narrowly as a science, and the study is focused on its border-crossing capacity as a ‘style of thought.’ By tracing the expression of eugenic ideas across disciplinary boundaries and in both high and low culture, this book demonstrates the powerful and pervasive influence of eugenics in the post-war years. Authors visited include Raymond Williams, John Braine, Agatha Christie, Muriel Spark, Anthony Burgess, Doris Lessing, and J.G. Ballard.
"This book is entirely original and offers not only a new subject for cultural study but a significant new approach. While the subject of eugenics has been written about by other scholars, as Hanson argues, it has been assumed that the subject was not only discredited but closed after the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II exposed the atrocities committed in the name of engineering for a master race. Hanson’s rigorous research reveals that eugenics morphed from a scientific into a cultural project that given assumptions about its progressive agenda, persisted well after World War II and is still to be found in various social programs today.
What is particularly original and significant about this book is its linked analysis of the eugenics cultural project and its expression in literary and social sources as well as in cultural theory and anthropological thinking. With her profound expertise on the subject in tow, Hanson’s close readings of the rhetoric and narrative strategies of many forms of social documents, cultural theory, and literary texts makes a significant contribution to cultural studies today. I have no doubt that this will be a widely influential book in its profoundly learned interdisciplinary approach." – Phyllis Lassner, Northwestern University, USA
"Hanson’s engaging and valuable book demonstrates that eugenic thought did not recede following the Second World War as has often been assumed, but had a profound and sustained impact on British culture after 1945. Her study provides a much needed spotlight on the more recent history of eugenic thinking which has led to the forms of biopower we know today." --Josie Gill, University of Cambridge, British Society for Literature and Science
1. Eugenics and the Meritocracy 2. Defective Humans: Mental Deficiency in Post-war Britain 3. Genetics and Eugenics 4. Race and the Body Politic 5. Population Control 6. Afterword
Clare Hanson is Professor of Twentieth Century Literature at the University of Southampton, UK.