Skip to main content Accessibility help

A visit to Biotopia: genre, genetics and gardening in the early twentieth century



The early decades of the twentieth century were marked by widespread optimism about biology and its ability to improve the world. A major catalyst for this enthusiasm was new theories about inheritance and evolution (particularly Hugo de Vries's mutation theory and Mendel's newly rediscovered ideas). In Britain and the USA particularly, an astonishingly diverse variety of writers (from elite scientists to journalists and writers of fiction) took up the task of interpreting these new biological ideas, using a wide range of genres to help their fellow citizens make sense of biology's promise. From these miscellaneous writings a new and distinctive kind of utopianism emerged – the biotopia. Biotopias offered the dream of a perfect, post-natural world, or the nightmare of violated nature (often in the same text), but above all they conveyed a sense that biology was – for the first time – offering humanity unprecedented control over life. Biotopias often visualized the world as a garden perfected for human use, but this vision was tinged with gendered violence, as it became clear that realizing it entailed dispossessing, or even killing, ‘Mother Nature’. Biotopian themes are apparent in journalism, scientific reports and even textbooks, and these non-fiction sources shared many characteristics with intentionally prophetic or utopian fictions. Biotopian themes can be traced back and forth across the porous boundaries between popular and elite writing, showing how biology came to function as public culture. This analysis reveals not only how the historical significance of science is invariably determined outside the scientific world, but also that the ways in which biology was debated during this period continue to characterize today's debates over new biological breakthroughs.



Hide All

Many thanks to the British Academy (for a mid-career fellowship, which funded this research). Also to Luis Campos, Helen Curry, Lynne Murphy, Katherine Pandora, Charlotte Sleigh, Kory Stamper, Charlotte Thurschwell and Pamela Thurschwell.



Hide All

1 Brewster, E.T., ‘Nature against nurture’, Atlantic Monthly (July 1908) 102(1), pp. 120121.

2 Brewster, op. cit. (1), 121.

3 Although the term ‘biology’ dated back to around 1800, it was really the rise of laboratory and experimental biology in the late nineteenth century that caught the public's imagination. See Allen, Garland E., Life Science in the Twentieth Century, reprint of 1st edn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978; Endersby, Jim, A Guinea Pig's History of Biology: The Plants and Animals Who Taught Us the Facts of Life, London: William Heinemann, 2007.

4 For the reception of Mendelism see Olby, Robert, ‘Mendel no Mendelian?’, History of Science (1979) 17, pp. 5372; Olby, , Origins of Mendelism, 2nd edn, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1985; Palladino, Paolo, ‘Wizards and devotees: on the Mendelian theory of inheritance and the professionalization of agricultural science in Great Britain and the United States, 1880–1930’, History of Science (1994) 32(3), pp. 409444; Paul, Diane B. and Kimmelman, Barbara A., ‘Mendel in America: theory and practice, 1900–1919’, in Rainger, Ronald, Benson, Keith R. and Maienschein, Jane (eds.), The American Development of Biology, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988, pp. 281310; Richmond, Marsha L., ‘The 1909 Darwin celebration: reexamining evolution in the light of Mendel, mutation, and meiosis’, Isis (2006) 97, pp. 5971; Rushton, Alan R., ‘Bateson and the doctors: the introduction of Mendelian genetics to the British medical community 1900–1910’, in Petermann, Heike I., Harper, Peter S. and Chamonix, Susanne Doetz (eds.), History of Human Genetics: Aspects of Its Development and Global Perspectives, Cham: Springer, 2004, pp. 5971.

5 I discuss mutation theory in more detail in Endersby, Jim, ‘Mutant utopias: evening primroses and imagined futures in early twentieth-century America’, Isis (2013) 104(3), pp. 471503.

6 Brewster, op. cit. (1), p. 121.

7 Pauly, Philip J., Fruits and Plains: The Horticultural Transformation of America, 1st edn, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.

8 In this review, Brewster used the term ‘bionomics’ to describe the novel approach, as did other writers. However, ‘bionomics’ was only used occasionally and has since acquired a much narrower, technical meaning (referring to the ecology of a particular species of organism), so I have preferred the broader and more widely used term ‘experimental evolution’.

9 Elie Metchnikoff, The Prolongation of Life: Optimistic Studies (1908), quoted in Brewster, op. cit. (1), p. 124.

10 Brewster, op. cit. (1), p. 124.

11 Overviews of utopianism include Kateb, George, Utopia and Its Enemies, London: The Free Press of Glencoe, 1963; Berneri, Marie Louise, Journey through Utopia, London: Freedom Press, 1982; Manuel, Frank E. and Manuel, Fritzie P., Utopian Thought in the Western World, 1st edn, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979; Moylan, Tom, Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination, 1st edn, London: Methuen, 1986; Kumar, Krishan, ‘Aspects of the Western utopian tradition’, History of the Human Sciences (2003) 16(1), pp. 6377; and Segal, Howard P., Technological Utopianism in American Culture, 2nd edn, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005.

12 Davis, J.C., ‘Science and utopia: the history of a dilemma’, in Mendelsohn, Everett and Nowotny, Helga (eds.), Nineteen Eighty-Four: Science between Utopia and Dystopia, Dordrecht: Reidel, 1984, pp. 2627.

13 For example, Suvin, Darko, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (ed. Canavan, Gerry), new edn, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016 (first published 1979); Ruppert, Peter, Reader in a Strange Land: The Activity of Reading Literary Utopias, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986; Kumar, Krishan, Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Modern Times, 1st edn, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987; Ferns, Chris, Narrating Utopia: Ideology, Gender, Form in Utopian Literature (ed. Seed, David), Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999.

14 Marx, Leo, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America, Oxford and London: Oxford University Press, 1972; Segal, Howard P., Future Imperfect: The Mixed Blessings of Technology in America, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994; Segal, op. cit. (11).

15 Hale, Piers J., Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2014. For the socialist/progressive appeal of evolution see Pittenger, Mark, American Socialists and Evolutionary Thought, 1870–1920, 1st edn, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993; Stack, David, The First Darwinian Left: Socialism and Darwinism, 1859–1914, Cheltenham: New Clarion Press, 2003.

16 Space prohibits an exploration of these themes in other countries, but – for reasons I will explore – I suspect that these were particularly Anglo-American concerns.

17 Shinn, Charles Howard, ‘A wizard of the garden’ (reprinted as Intensive Horticulture in California), Land of Sunshine: The Magazine of California and the West (1901) 14(2), pp. 35.

18 Stack, op. cit. (15).

19 Harwood, William Sumner, The New Earth: A Recital of the Triumphs of Modern Agriculture in America, New York and London: Macmillan, 1906, pp. 49, 12.

20 Vavilov, Nikolay Ivanovich, Origin and Geography of Cultivated Plants, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 284285.

21 Watkins, John Elfreth Jr, ‘New species to order’, Evening Star (Washington, DC), 23 February 1907. The story was reprinted in other papers, e.g. Watkins, ‘Creation of species: work done at station of experimental evolution’, New-York Daily Tribune, 24 February 1907.

22 Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, Herland, New York: Pantheon Books, 1979 (first published 1915), pp. 94, 7172.

23 Wells, Herbert George, Men Like Gods, Thirsk: House of Stratus, 2002 (first published 1923), pp. 32, 8586.

24 Haldane, J.B.S., Daedalus, or, Science and the Future, 1st edn, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd, 1924, pp. 6162, 6. The idea of ‘genetic engineering’ did not really exist at this time, but the idea was beginning to be discussed by geneticists. The US geneticist Albert Blakeslee may well have been the first to call himself a ‘genetics engineer’; see Campos, Luis and von Schwerin, Alexander, ‘Transatlantic mutants: evolution, epistemics, and the engineering of variation, 1903–1930’, in Müller-Wille, Staffan and Brandt, Christina (eds.), Heredity Explored: Between Public Domain and Experimental Science, 1850–1930, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016, pp. 143166, 402; Campos, Luis, Radium and the Secret of Life, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015.

25 The term ‘biotopia’ has been used occasionally by ecologists and as the name of a couple of contemporary natural history/ecology museums (e.g. in Uppsala), but not (to the best of my knowledge) in the sense that I am using it here.

26 The Forerunner got a few reviews, in the Chicago Evening Post, the Chicago Dial and the Vegetarian Magazine. And the leading US socialists Eugene Debs and Upton Sinclair both quoted from it in public. Scharnhorst, Gary, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1st edn, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985, p. 85.

27 Shinn, Charles Howard, ‘Men like Gods: Well's utopian novel of earthlings who find a new world’, Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine (1923) 81(5), pp. 4445.

28 Henry James Forman, ‘H.G. Wells skids into utopia [review of] Men like Gods’, New York Times, 27 May 1923, p. 1.

29 Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, ‘Comment and review’, The Forerunner (1910) 1(3), p. 28.

30 Ferns, op. cit. (13), pp. 13–14.

31 Gilman, op. cit. (22), pp. 68, 78–80, 94.

32 Wells, op. cit. (23), pp. 17, 36, 85–86.

33 Wells, op. cit. (23), p. 155.

34 Wells based the character on Eddie Marsh, secretary to Winston Churchill (who is also caricatured in the novel). Toye, Richard, ‘H.G. Wells and Winston Churchill: a reassessment’, in McLean, Steven (ed.), H.G. Wells: Interdisciplinary Essays, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2008, pp. 147161, 150. Marsh (1872–1953) was an art collector and patron of painters and poets, particularly Rupert Brooke. Hassall, C.V., ‘Marsh, Sir Edward Howard (1872–1953)’ (rev. Pottle, Mark), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, at, accessed 27 November 2017.

35 Wells, op. cit. (23), pp. 84–85, 87, emphasis added. Interestingly, in Wells's The Time Machine (1895), the Time Traveller discovers a future in which people had created ‘air free from gnats, the earth from weeds or fungi; everywhere were fruits and sweet and delightful flowers; brilliant butterflies flew hither and thither. The ideal of preventive medicine was attained. Diseases had been stamped out’. Wells, H.G., The Time Machine, London: Everyman, 1995, p. 28. However, in 1895 the resulting absence of adversity had led to humanity's degeneration; by 1923, Wells – like the other biotopians – had become more optimistic.

36 Wells, op. cit. (23), p. 98.

37 For a fuller discussion see Merchant, Carolyn, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution, London: Wildwood House, 1982; Pesic, Peter, ‘Proteus rebound: reconsidering the “torture of nature”’, Isis (2008) 99(2), pp. 304317.

38 Gilman, op. cit. (22), pp. 100–101. Some scholars have even described Herland as an ecological utopia, but recent criticism has challenged this interpretation. See Knittel, Janna, ‘Environmental history and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’, Foundation: International Review of Science Fiction (2006) 35(96), pp. 4967; Christensen, Andrew G., ‘Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland and the tradition of the scientific utopia’, Utopian Studies (2017) 28(2), pp. 4967.

39 Gilman, op. cit. (22), pp. 95, 103.

40 My thinking on this point is indebted to Philip J. Pauly's discussion of ‘culture’, which – he notes – meant ‘tillage’ before it meant art and literature. Both meanings retain a sense of improvement through the activity of cultivating; plants and people are similarly improved by careful cultivation. Pauly, Philip J., Biologists and the Promise of American Life: From Merriweather Lewis to Alfred Kinsey, 1st edn, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000, pp. 89. See also Ortner, Sherry B., ‘Is female to male as nature is to culture?’, Feminist Studies (1972) 1(2), pp. 531; and Haraway, Donna, ‘A cyborg manifesto’, in Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women, London: Routledge, 1991, pp. 149182.

41 See Pauly, Philip J., Controlling Life: Jacques Loeb and the Engineering Ideal in Biology, New York: Oxford University Press, 1987; Turney, Jon, Frankenstein's Footsteps: Science, Genetics and Popular Culture, 1st edn, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998.

42 See, for example, Smith, David C., H.G. Wells: Desperately Mortal, 1st edn, New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1986, pp. 325; Kemp, Peter, H.G. Wells and the Culminating Ape: Biological Imperatives and Imaginative Obsessions, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996.

43 For Gilman and biology see Pittenger, op. cit. (15), pp. 9–10; Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Nonfiction Reader (ed. Ceplair, Larry), 1st edn, New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

44 For Loeb see Reingold, Nathan, ‘Jacques Loeb, the scientist: his papers and his era’, Quarterly Journal of Current Acquisitions (1962) 19(3), pp. 119130; Pauly, op. cit. (40); Turney, op. cit. (41), pp. 67–72.

45 Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, ‘As to parthenogenesis and humanity’, The Forerunner (1916), 7(3), p. 83. She may have derived the information from Geddes, Patrick and Thomson, J. Arthur, The Evolution of Sex, 2nd revised edn, London: Walter Scott, 1901, pp. 192193, a book she mentioned as one she found most important. Ceplair, op. cit. (43), pp. 88–89.

46 Gilman, op. cit. (45), p. 83.

47 Gilman, op. cit. (22), p. 77. Given the date, ‘law of mutation’ is a reference to de Vries, not Mendelism. The biologist Ernst Mayr recalled that as a young student in the 1920s he and his fellow students still thought of mutation only in the de Vriesian sense. Mayr, Ernst, ‘Prologue: some thoughts on the history of the evolutionary synthesis’, in Mayr, Ernst and Provine, William B. (eds.), The Evolutionary Synthesis: Perspectives on the Unification of Biology, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998, pp. 148, 20.

48 E.T. Brewster, ‘Significant books of science’, Atlantic Monthly, November 1905, pp. 681–690, 684. For Gilman and the Atlantic Monthly see Rich, Charlotte, ‘From near-dystopia to utopia: a source for Herland in Inez Haynes Gillmore's Angel Island’, in Davis, Cynthia J. and Knight, Denise D. (eds.), Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Her Contemporaries, Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2004, pp. 155170, 155. See also E.T. Brewster, ‘Some recent aspects of Darwinism’, Atlantic Monthly, April 1904, pp. 513–521.

49 For Gilman and PSM see Pittenger, op. cit. (15), p. 73. Articles on mutation included de Vries, Hugo, ‘On the origin of species’, Popular Science Monthly (1903) 62(6), pp. 481496; Hubrecht, Ambrosius Arnold Willem, ‘Hugo de Vries's theory of mutations’, Popular Science Monthly (1904) 65, pp. 205223; White, Charles Abiathar, ‘The mutations of Lycopersicum’, Popular Science Monthly (1905) 66(7), pp. 150160; MacDougal, Daniel Trembly, ‘Discontinuous variation in pedigree cultures’, Popular Science Monthly (1906) 69(3), pp. 207225.

50 For example, anon., Some books on evolution’, The Nation (1912) 95(2475), pp. 543545; de Vries, Hugo, ‘A new conception concerning the origin of species’, Harper's Monthly Magazine (1905) 110(656), pp. 209213.

51 Slichter, Charles S., ‘Industrialism’, Popular Science Monthly (1912) 81(22), pp. 355363, 363. I discuss the reception of the mutation theory more fully in Endersby, op. cit. (5).

52 Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, ‘Having faith in evolution’, The Forerunner (November 1915) 6(11), pp. 299300; Sutton-Ramspeck, Beth and Gilman, Charlotte Perkins (eds.), Herland and Related Writings, Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2013, pp. 234235.

53 Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, ‘Assisted evolution’, The Forerunner (1916) 7(1), p. 5.

54 Gilman, op. cit. (22), pp. 49–51.

55 Gilman, op. cit. (22), pp. 91–93.

56 As noted, Herland does not appear to have been reviewed, but Gilman was publicly pilloried as ‘unnatural’ for relinquishing the care of her daughter to her husband and his second wife following their divorce. Tuttle, Jennifer S., ‘“New England innocent” in the land of sunshine: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and California’, Western American Literature (2013) 48(3), pp. 284311, 300–311.

57 My thinking on Burbank is greatly indebted to Pandora's lucid and original analysis of his public significance. See Pandora, Katherine, ‘Knowledge held in common: tales of Luther Burbank and science in the American vernacular’, Isis (2001) 92(3), pp. 484516. For the picket fence see Bailey, Liberty Hyde, ‘A maker of new fruits and flowers’, World's Work (1901) 2, pp. 12091210.

58 Smith, Jane S., The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants, New York: The Penguin Press, 2009, pp. 108112.

59 Various, Complimentary Banquet in Honor of Luther Burbank. Given by the California State Board of Trade, Palace Hotel, San Francisco, 14 September 1905, San Francisco: California State Board of Trade, 1905, pp. 67, 18, 40.

60 Serviss, Garrett P., ‘Transforming the world of plants: the wonder-work of Luther Burbank, which shows how Man can govern evolution’, The Cosmopolitan: A Monthly Illustrated Magazine (1905) 40(1), p. 65.

61 Howard, Norman, ‘Dr. Luther Burbank, the magician of plants: the life-story of an explorer into the infinite’, The Quiver: An Illustrated Magazine for Sunday and General Reading (1906) 220, pp. 451457, 451.

62 ‘Evolved’ was regularly used transitively at this time, e.g. The World To-day described Burbank's Shasta daisy as a plant ‘which he evolved’. Walsh, George Ethelbert, ‘Prizes in plants (the making of to-morrow)’, The World To-day: A Monthly Record of Human Progress (February 1911) 20(2), p. 232.

63 Pandora, op. cit. (57), p. 497. Jane Smith has made the same point, that the excitement around what she calls Burbank's garden of invention was ‘the possibility, for a time, that anyone could enter and see what might take root’. Smith, op. cit. (58), p. 9.

64 Endersby, op. cit. (5), pp. 476, 84, 87–92.

65 Smocovitis has argued that the later anti-Darwinian backlash in the 1950s was also in part a reaction against the perceived arrogance of biologists, flushed with their success in creating what they called the modern evolutionary synthesis. See Smocovitis, Vassiliki Betty, ‘The 1959 Darwin centennial celebration in America’, Osiris (1999) 14, pp. 274323.

66 Burbank did not appear at the trial, but wrote a strong letter in support of the teaching of evolution. Smith, op. cit. (58), pp. 263–264.

67 Burbank referred to ‘teaching these old dogs of the vegetable world the new tricks’ in his autobiography, Burbank, Luther and Hall, Wilbur, The Harvest of the Years: An Autobiography, Edited, with a Biographical Sketch, by W. Hall, Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1927, p. 88.

68 Brewster, op. cit. (1), p. 123. An entry for ‘burbank’ (lower-case) as a verb was included in the second edition of Webster's, where it was defined as meaning both to ‘modify and improve (plants or animals)’ and ‘figuratively, to improve (anything, as a process or institution) by selecting good features and rejecting bad’. There was also an entry for burbankian … Produced by burbanking; resembling the act or product of burbanking’, Webster's New International Dictionary, Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1934, p. 357.

69 For an overview of Burbank and the press see Howard, Walter L., ‘Luther Burbank: a victim of hero worship’, Chronica Botanica (1945) 9(5–6), pp. 299506; and Pandora, op. cit. (57).

70 Harwood, William Sumner, New Creations in Plant Life: An Authoritative Account of the Life and Work of Luther Burbank, New York and London: Macmillan, 1905; Harwood, op. cit. (19). For Century Magazine see Cairns, William B., ‘Later magazines’, in Ward, Adolphus William, Trent, W.P., Erskine, J., Sherman, S.P. and Van Doren, C. (eds.), The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21), New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2000 (first published 1907–1921), at; LaFollette, Marcel C., Making Science Our Own: Public Images of Science, 1910–1955, 1st edn, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990, p. 33.

71 For Burbank's relationship with de Vries see Endersby, op. cit. (5).

72 Harwood, William Sumner, ‘A wonder-worker of science: an authoritative account of Luther Burbank's unique work in creating new forms of plant life (first paper)’, Century Magazine (1905) 69(5), pp. 656657.

73 Harwood, op. cit. (72), p. 657.

74 Harwood, op. cit. (70), p. 336.

75 Harwood, op. cit. (72), p. 669.

76 Bailey, op. cit. (57), p. 1213.

77 Jordan, David Starr and Kellogg, Vernon L., eds., The Scientific Aspects of Luther Burbank's Work, San Francisco: A.M. Robertson, 1909, p. x.

78 Serviss, op. cit. (60), p. 68, emphasis added.

79 Serviss, Garrett P., ‘Some great American scientists: ix. Luther Burbank’, The Chautauquan: A Weekly Newsmagazine (May 1905) 50(3), p. 411.

80 Serviss, op. cit. (60), p. 68.

81 ‘Plant freaks to be shown: wizard Burbank will exhibit some queer ones’, Los Angeles Times, 16 March 1911, 1907.

82 Meagher, J.F., ‘Nadfratities’, Silent Worker (July 1919) 31(10), p. 204.

83 My thinking on this is much indebted to Luis Campos, particularly Mutant sexuality: the private life of a plant’, in Campos, Luis and von Schwerin, Alexander (eds.), Making Mutations: Objects, Practices, Contexts, Berlin: Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, 2010, pp. 4970. In the light of Campos's analysis of the ‘queerness’ of Oenothera, it is intriguing that the OED records the earliest uses of ‘queer’ as an adjective to mean homosexual in the LA Times (where this report on Burbank appeared) just three years later: ‘He said that the Ninety-six Club was the best; that it was composed of the “queer” people. He said that the members sometimes spent hundreds of dollars on silk gowns, hosiery, etc. At these “drags” the “queer” people have a good time’. Los Angeles Times, 19 Nov. 1914, ii. 10/5. The word was used as a noun in Britain slightly earlier.

84 Pandora, op. cit. (57), pp. 498–499.

85 Burbank, Luther, ‘How to produce new trees, fruits and flowers’, in Horticultural Society of New York (ed.), Proceedings of the 24th Session of the American Pomological Society, Sacramento, Ca., 16–18 January 1895, Topeka, KS: American Pomological Society, 1895, pp. 5966, 59. The paper was read on Burbank's behalf.

86 One context for the emergence of Biotopia would be the US ‘country-life movement’, to which Liberty Hyde Bailey was an important contributor. See Bailey, Liberty Hyde, The Country-Life Movement in the United States, New York and London: Macmillan, 1911; Jeffrey Brian Motter, ‘Tending the garden: the country life movement between productivity and sustainability’, PhD thesis, Indiana University, 2009. My thanks to Helen Curry for drawing this to my attention.

87 Harwood, op. cit. (72), pp. 672, 61.

88 Various, op. cit. (59), p. 16.

89 Brown, Enos, ‘Luther Burbank and plant breeding’, Scientific American (1905) 93(2), pp. 220221, 220.

90 Harwood, op. cit. (70), pp. 167–168.

91 Harwood, op. cit. (72), p. 669.

92 Serviss, op. cit. (79), p. 415.

93 Serviss, Garrett P., ‘How Burbank produces new flowers and fruit: the illimitable field of plant-production opened by crossing and selection’, The Cosmopolitan: A Monthly Illustrated Magazine (1905) 40(2), pp. 164165.

94 Serviss, op. cit. (79), p. 412.

95 Woodbury, Charles H., ‘The work of Luther Burbank’, Open Court (1910) 5, pp. 298309, 307.

96 Harwood, op. cit. (70), p. 39.

97 Shinn, op. cit. (17), p. 10.

98 J.B.S. Haldane's confidence in the liberating possibilities of contraception would be challenged by his wife, Charlotte Haldane, in a biotopian novel that emphasized the oppressive misogyny that could result from ‘man’ controlling nature. Haldane, Charlotte, Man's World, New York: George H. Doran Company, 1927.

99 Haldane, op. cit. (24), pp. 42–45.

100 Haldane, op. cit. (24), pp. 46–47, 77.

101 Haldane, op. cit. (24), pp. 9–10.

102 Haldane, op. cit. (24), pp. 24, 59–62.

103 Haldane also conveys a faint hint of contempt for the ‘aesthetically minded’, just as there was in Wells's description of Freddy Mush.

104 Haldane, op. cit. (24), pp. 66–67, 40–41.

105 Haldane, op. cit. (24), p. 69.

106 E.g. Brittain, Vera, Halcyon; Or, the Future of Monogamy, 1st edn, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd, 1929; Firestone, Shulamith, The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, London: Women's Press, 1979. See Squier, Susan Merrill, Babies in Bottles: Twentieth-Century Visions of Reproductive Technology, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1994. Ectogenesis and the end of traditional familes are also discussed by Charlotte Haldane, op. cit. (98), but in much more sceptical terms.

107 Haldane, op. cit. (24), pp. 71–77, 82, 89.

108 Haldane, op. cit. (24), p. 90.

109 Huxley, Thomas Henry, ‘Evolution and ethics’ (1894), in Paradis, James G. and Williams, George C. (eds.), Evolution and Ethics: T.H. Huxley's ‘Evolution and Ethics’ with New Essays on Its Victorian and Sociobiological Context, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989, pp. 59174, 138–139, 141.

110 Haldane, op. cit. (24), pp. 90, 2.

111 For a brief overview of the naturalistic fallacy and its historical use see Daston, Lorraine, ‘The naturalistic fallacy is modern’, Isis (2014) 105(3), pp. 579587.

112 Haldane, op. cit. (24), p. 93.

113 Antoine-Clair Thibaudeau, 1795. Quoted in Spary, Emma C., Utopia's Garden: French Natural History from Old Regime to Revolution, 1st edn, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 10.

114 James G. Paradis, ‘“Evolution and ethics” in its Victorian context’, in Paradis and Williams, op. cit. (109), pp. 3–56, 10–11.

115 Huxley, op. cit. (109), pp. 102, 85.

116 I am indebted to Staffan Müller-Wille and Christina Brandt, whose work first made me recognize this point. However, they suggest that the ‘view that sees (cultural as well as biological) inheritance as a common stock of dispositions seems to lie in the association of heredity with the future rather than the past’; they associate its twentieth-century meaning with the broad idea of progress, but don't offer a specific causal account of the shift. Müller-Wille, Staffan and Brandt, Christina, ‘From heredity to genetics: political, medical, and agro-industrial contexts’, in Müller-Wille and Brandt (eds.), Heredity Explored: Between Public Domain and Experimental Science, 1850–1930, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016 pp. 325, 17.

117 Wells, op. cit. (23), pp. 31, 110.

118 William T. Ellis, ‘Today's tremendous testing (international Sunday school lesson)’, Washington Post, 31 January 1925.

119 Eugene S. Bagger, ‘Haldane looks into the future: what marvels science will achieve for human life – impending urbanization of the world’, New York Times, 6 April 1924, 1, 27.

120 Anon. ‘Science and the future’, Nature (24 May 1924) 113(2847), pp. 740741.

121 Dronamraju, Krishna R. (ed.), Haldane's Daedalus Revisited, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 1.

122 Brown, Andrew, J.D. Bernal: The Sage of Science, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 7273.

123 Muller, Hermann Joseph, Out of the Night: A Biologist's View of the Future, 1st edn, London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1936. Although Muller's book was not published until 1936, it was mostly written much earlier (as Muller makes clear in its text).

124 Shinn, op. cit. (27), p. 45.

125 The literature on degeneration is immense, and growing constantly, but for an overview see Lankester, Edwin Ray, ‘Degeneration: a chapter in Darwinism’, in Lankester, The Advancement of Science: Occasional Essays & Addresses, London: Macmillan and Co., 1879, pp. 359; Nordau, Max Simon, Degeneration, 9th edn, London: Heinemann, 1896; Pick, Daniel, Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, c.1848–1918, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989; Soloway, Richard A., Demography and Degeneration: Eugenics and the Declining Birth Rate in Twentieth-Century Britain, 2nd edn, Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1995; Ledger, Sally and Luckhurst, Roger, eds., The Fin de Siècle: A Reader in Cultural History, c.1880–1900, 1st edn, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

126 Burbank, Luther, ‘The training of the human plant’, Century Magazine (1906) 72(1), pp. 127137.

127 Smith, op. cit. (42), pp. 262–263.

128 Wells, H.G., Huxley, Julian and Wells, G.P., The Science of Life: A Summary of Contemporary Knowledge about Life and Its Possibilities, 3 vols., London: Amalgamated Press (Waverley Book Company Ltd), 1929–1930, pp. 973, 6. I will be analysing textbooks in more detail in the book I am currently completing.

129 Endersby, op. cit. (5).

130 Campos, op. cit. (24); Curry, Helen Anne, Evolution Made to Order: Plant Breeding and Technological Innovation in Twentieth-Century America, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016.

131 My thinking on these points has been influenced by the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, e.g. Bakhtin, Mikhail M., ‘From Discourse in the Novel’, in Leitch, Vincent B., Cain, William E., Finke, Laurie A. and Johnson, Barbara E. (eds.), The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, pp. 10761106; and Holquist, Michael, Dialogism: Bakhtin and His World, 2nd edn, London: Routledge, 2002. Brave New World’s antecedents and sources are discussed in Squier, op. cit. (106); and Sleigh, Charlotte, ‘Brave new worlds: trophallaxis and the origin of society in the early twentieth century’, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (2002) 38(2), pp. 133156.

132 Lord Roseberry, quoted in Trotter, David, ‘Modernism and empire: reading The Waste Land’, in MacCabe, Colin (ed.), Futures for English, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988, pp. 143153, 150.

133 Agar, Jon, ‘What happened in the sixties?’, BJHS (2008) 41(4), pp. 567600.

Many thanks to the British Academy (for a mid-career fellowship, which funded this research). Also to Luis Campos, Helen Curry, Lynne Murphy, Katherine Pandora, Charlotte Sleigh, Kory Stamper, Charlotte Thurschwell and Pamela Thurschwell.


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed