“Now don’t say a word if you’ve read it… I owe everyone a grudge who tells me the plot of a story that I’m interested in” (The Heavenly Twins 1893, 527)
While making my way through New Woman novels this year, I’ve been musing on the New Woman and the problem of heredity. I’ll save my thoughts on Neo-Lamarkian and Darwinian theories for another post – for the nonce, I’d like to open up a discussion about heredity’s relationship to mystery novels in Sarah Grand’s The Heavenly Twins (1893).
Evadne, the heroine of The Heavenly Twins, suffers from depression. Her physician, Dr. Galbraith, sets out to find the source of her illness. He consults Sir Shadwell Rock, who is, coincidently, both the “chief authority” on heredity and a fan of “shilling shocker” novels. Above I’ve quoted Rock’s admonishment to Galbraith about giving away the ending of Rock’s most recent novelette.
Ever the sleuth, Galbraith discovers that on her wedding night Evadne found out about her husband’s illegitimate and syphilitic son. Repulsed by her husband’s iniquity, she had fled. On her parents’ insistence, she returned to her husband with the understanding that she would live with him, but not, ahem, strictly as husband and wife.
When Evadne’s husband dies, she marries Galbraith, but her melancholy doesn’t lift. Galbraith finds her reading Rock’s treatise on heredity, which argues that habits and morals are hereditary. Anxious about her former husband’s sinister youth, Evadne laments that “we may any of us become parents of people who can’t be moral” (547). Evadne, now pregnant, attempts to commit suicide, in order to save her unborn daughter from falling for a man like her first husband.
There are a few other instances where heredity is linked questionable sensation stories and mysteries (and on occassion to outright French novels!) in The Heavenly Twins. This leads me to wonder about the relationship between the science of heredity and why it appears along side a particular genres. How heredity works was far from settled in the 1890s, but if the science of heredity is to life as the spoiler is to the mystery novel, then the Victorians owe the science of heredity a grudge.