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Kin Selection, Mendel’s “Salutary Principle,” and the Fate of Characters in Forster’s *The Longest Journey*

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Daniel Aureliano Newman
Kin Selection, Mendel, and Forster’s Longest Journey
At the end of E.M. Forster’s The Longest Journey (1907),Rickie Elliot is
killed by a train as he saves his half-brother Stephen by pushing him off
the rails. It is, John Colmer exclaims, an “extraordinary” ending (“The 
Longest Journey” 63), and it has been criticized for too neatly resolving
a convoluted plot and for cavalierly disposing of its protagonist. Even
queer theorists, who have so radically reread and contextualized the plot’s
apparent incoherencies, see Rickie’s sacrifice as a betrayal of the text’s
queerness. Accepting these concerns, this chapter takes a new look at the
novel, attending to its hitherto neglected engagement with genetics. The 
Longest Journey is obsessed, to quote one of its characters, with “heredi-
tary business” (Longest 9). Examining Forster’s thematic and structural
use of heredity, I suggest a new, enlarged outlook on the novel’s ethics, its
treatment of character and its “overdetermined heroic ending” (Miracky,
“Pursuing (a) Fantasy” 141).
To begin, a simple thought experiment. What can we learn about Rick-
ie’s death from J.B.S. Haldane’s famous quip – that he would not risk his
life to save his drowning brother, but would plunge in for two broth-
ers or eight cousins (Marshall, “Ultimate Causes” 504)? In terms of evo-
lutionary fitness, Haldane realized, the more closely related the rescuer
and the drowner, the less it matters if the rescuer survives. Relatedness
is, so to speak, overlap between individuals: identical twins overlap com-
pletely, being one genetic individual in two bodies; siblings overlap less
(50%, on average), first cousins even less (12.5%, on average). Therefore,
as Richard Dawkins updates Haldane, “the minimum requirement for a
suicidal altruistic gene to be successful is that it should save more than
two siblings, or more than four half-siblings, or more than eight first
cousins, etc. Such a gene, on average, tends to live on in bodies of enough
10 Kin Selection, Mendel’s “Salutary
Principle,” and the Fate of Characters
in Forster’s The Longest Journey
daniel aureliano newman
248 Daniel Aureliano Newman
individuals saved by the altruist to compensate for the death of the altruist
itself” (100). There is strangeness indeed in this view of life. According to
Haldane’s calculations, Rickie throws good genes after bad when he dies
saving Stephen. It would take not one but “more than four half-siblings”
to justify his sacrifice. Thus, Rickie’s cynical aunt Emily Failing appears
to be right to eulogize him “as ‘one who has failed in everything he under-
took’” (282). But then I have withheld some relevant details about Rickie
and Stephen, details which complicate and reward a reading attuned to
The Longest Journey’s particular genetic vision.
What follows is not, despite superficial resemblances, Literary Dar-
winism. I doubt this school of criticism can serve well outside its natural
environment of social realism. A rigorous sociobiological reading would,
I think, fail to register the modernist oddities that make The Longest Jour-
ney such a delightful read. My goal is neither to solve its “contradictions,
gaps, and inconsistencies” (Miracky 130), nor to take these as indicators
of aesthetic failure (see Carroll, Literary Darwinism 145). My reading is,
in fact, continuous with the ongoing revisionist approach to Forster, here
summarized by Alan Wilde: “In forgoing some of our assumptions about
the novels’ and stories’ aesthetic coherence we will discover heretofore
unrecognized levels of complexity, which make of the books, if less perfect
and autonomous creations, at any rate a more authentic record of Forster’s
(and modernism’s) struggles” (69).
Seeking “unrecognized levels of complexity,” I pursue the analogy
between Rickie and Haldane’s drowning siblings and discover in The 
Longest  Journey  a relatively coherent hereditary logic, one sufficiently
informed by contemporary genetics to bring into play some strange impli-
cations of post-Darwinian biology. Upholding a vision of identity Forster
found – or would find – congenial with Mendelism, The Longest Journey
lives up to its reputation as a modernist Bildungsroman, demanding that
we see beyond human characters to the tiny particles, now called genes,
that “swarm in huge colonies in you and in me” (Dawkins, Selfish Gene
21).1 Thus, “the fate of characters” in my title plays on two planes of nar-
rative action in The Longest Journey: on one, Rickie the developing human
character; on the other, his inherited traits, or characters.
Such an estranging take on character confirms Forster’s status as a mod-
ernist, as does, more broadly, the cosmopolitanism of his biological engage-
ments. Throughout his novels, Forster enacts cultural encounters to reveal
the poverty of nationalistic or ethnocentric views of human nature. Eng-
lish prejudices and national myths are challenged by Italy in Where Angels 
Fear to Tread (1905) and A Room with a View (1908) and by India in A 
Kin Selection, Mendel, and Forster’s Longest Journey 249
Passage to India  (1924). While The Longest Journey, by contrast, seems
wholly English, its apparent insularity is deceptive. A pervasive but subtle
German influence emerges, especially when we read italongside Howards 
End (1910), which, despite many differences, rewrites the earlier novel (I
will return shortly to their affinities). That is, Howards End exposes an
indebtedness to German culture that is only latent in its predecessor. It
challenges an English nationalism Forster abhorred by naming its hero-
ine Margaret Schlegel and making her neither “English to the backbone”
nor “German to the backbone” (26) but, rather, a composite of “the two
supreme nations, streams of whose life warmed her blood, but, mingling,
had cooled her brain” (198). Less overt in The Longest Journey, German
thought occasionally surfaces: Hegel looms large both thematically and
structurally, and the novel’s ethical centre, Ansell, is repeatedly associated
with German aesthetics and philosophy.
For contemporary readers, moreover, the novel’s focus on genetics
would have evoked a science that was still dominated by German names
like August Weismann, Carl Correns, and Richard Goldschmidt. By the
1890s, Haeckel was more popular in England than in Germany (Holland,
“Walter Garstang” 248). Such figures were, if not household names, famil-
iar enough in England to give public lectures (Hans Driesch delivered the
1913 Gifford Lectures) and to publish in high-brow English periodicals
like Fortnightly Review (where, in the 1890s, Weismann and Spencer aired
their differences). If The Longest  Journey  was engaging with estranging
scientific ideas, these would have struck its audience as strangely foreign
to boot.
My focus on genes does not deny traditional views on character or
human interest. Certainly, Rickie’s sacrifice is just that: an act of will and
an expression of love, rather than a compulsion from his genes. And any-
way, opposing human agency and genetic fitness is a bit of a straw man.
Even Daniel Dennett, a most zealous neo-Darwinist, insists it is a mistake
to think selfish genes survive because they cause us to act selfishly (Dar-
win’s Dangerous Idea 422–7); it is more accurate to say that the genes that
survive appear  to  be  selfish (by virtue of their having survived), which
says very little about the nature of our own human choices. My point is
not that Rickie is thinking with his genes when he sacrifices himself. The
selection in kin selection does not indicate agency but, rather, the retro-
spective appearance of agency. Rickie’s choice in the moment makes sense
to me only as a manifestation of agency, be it fully reasoned or partly
instinctive.2 Insofar as he can be said to act on behalf of his genes, he does
so only in the future perfect: at the moment of his sacrifice, he is not acting
250 Daniel Aureliano Newman
selfishly, but, rather, will have acted selfishly when his action is analysed
in hindsight. In any case, I am simply proposing that attending to a genetic
logic that Forster was evidently interested in allows us to uncover an addi-
tional dimension to the twin narratological problems of character and plot
development. This doubling of plot trajectories sheds new light on queer
Forster criticism and suggests a crucial role for contemporary biology,
particularly Mendelism and neo-Darwinism, in Forster’s modernist ethics
and aesthetics.
The great geneticist W.D. Hamilton, who formalized kin selection theory,
believed an evolutionist must be endowed with “a fourth intellectual pig-
ment of the retina capable of raising into clear sight patterns of nature and
of the human future that are denied the majority of his fellows” (qtd. in
Dugatkin, “Inclusive Fitness Theory” 1378). His theory certainly chal-
lenges received ideas, troubling conventional understandings of identity,
family, altruism, heroism, and success – primary concerns of real life and
fiction alike. Undoubtedly, any major scientific theory can, as Gillian Beer
argues, “disturb assumed relationships and shift what has been substan-
tial into metaphor” (Darwin’s Plots 1). Quantum mechanics explodes our
most fundamental ideas about reality – but then it hardly demands a revi-
sion of daily life, or of the narratives we spin to comprehend it. By con-
trast, a new genetic theory is always a new vision of human nature, of our
individual and collective potential for improvement, of our past and des-
tiny, of our very make-up and identity. Formalizing Haldane’s anecdote of
drowning kin (Dugatkin 1378), Hamilton opened up vistas as strange as
Einstein’s or Planck’s. But his hit closer to home.
Hamilton’s kin selection model inaugurated the now orthodox frame-
work in evolutionary biology, Inclusive Fitness Theory. In this view, selec-
tion acts not on groups or individuals but on genes; individuals are mere
vessels for selfish genes. This is certainly unsettling. A theory that reduces
bodies into “survival machines” for genes (Dawkins 21) and behaviours
into “apparent strategies” for optimizing fitness (Buss, “Mate Preference
Mechanisms” 263) cannot but deliver an ontological shock. Even a cham-
pion of post-humanism like Donna Haraway shrinks from it, though she
recognizes its potentially productive challenge to the myths of identity:
“the pov [point of view] of the gene gives me a curious vertigo that I blame
on the god-like perspective of my autotelic entity” (Modest 133).3
This “curious vertigo” distorts the stories we live by and those we pro-
duce as art. It has been exploited thematically in Ian McEwan’s Enduring 
Love (1997) and David Lodge’s Thinks …(2001). More pertinent here, it
can shape narratives. Both Kurt Vonnegut’s Galápagos (1985) and Zadie
Smith’s White Teeth (2001), for example, are structured by the random-
ness of survival and the discrepancies between individual merit and repro-
ductive fitness (Vonnegut’s Captain von Kleist is a total failure who, as a
new Noah, fathers all future humans). That these two novels feature mul-
tiple generations and emphasize reproduction is not incidental: we should
expect to find Inclusive Fitness Theory associated with certain literary
genres (the family saga, the Bildungsroman, cyberpunk, Naturalism). The
features that make these genres amenable to the logic of inclusive fitness
predate by decades or centuries its formalization in the 1960s; the genres
were, so to speak, pre-adapted to intersect with selfish genetics. For this
reason, we can speak of inclusive fitness at work in novels as old as The 
Longest Journey.
Anachronistic as it may seem, my claim is supported by historical prec-
edents. Indeed, the basic insights of inclusive fitness inhere in the work of
Francis Galton (1822–1911) and Weismann (1834–1914), who both distin-
guished mortal bodies from potentially immortal genetic lines (Olby, Ori-
gins of Mendelism 57). Kin selection originates even earlier. In The Origin 
of Species, Darwin explains the puzzling existence of sterile worker-bees
by proposing that “selection may be applied to the family, as well as to the
individual, and may thus gain the desired end” (237). Aspects of inclusive
fitness are therefore latent in Darwinism itself. If its precise articulation
demands statistical and genetic knowledge unavailable before the 1920s,
its implications could nevertheless emerge from earlier fictional treat-
ments of heredity.
In the context of fiction, this emergence requires that the narratives
meet specific conditions: a plot structured by genealogy; character rela-
tions stressing reproduction and kinship; and, crucially, a model of hered-
ity sufficiently consistent with the modern notion of genes. The first two
conditions are easily met; the limiting factor is the hereditary model, partly
because most novels have concerns other than generating coherent genetic
theories. Clearly, inclusive fitness would not obtain in a plot dictated by
Lamarckian, or soft, inheritance. In soft inheritance, the genetic material
changes as the body reacts to experience and environment; genetic iden-
tity is too closely aligned with personal identity for genes to act selfishly.
The Lamarckian vision so intertwines the individual with the hereditary
that Samuel Butler uses the word “personality” to speak of both (Life and 
Habit 78 ff.).
What is needed, then, is hard inheritance, “the essential constancy of
the genetic material” (Mayr, Growth  of  Biological  Thought 755). Hard
Kin Selection, Mendel, and Forster’s Longest Journey 251
252 Daniel Aureliano Newman
inheritance decouples genetic from personal identity: the mother’s blue-
eyed gene continues in her son – even if his eyes are brown – and it could
be traced back along her family tree for countless generations. Hard
inheritance is exactly what we find in The Longest Journey, whose implicit
genetic theory, stressing inherited traits, genetic determinism, and shared
descent, demands readings that discriminate between the fate of characters
and the fate of their genes.
A brief précis of The Longest Journey reveals a plot dictated by genea-
logical events births, deaths, marriages, fertile couplings. Rickie has a
hereditary clubfoot; marries Agnes Pembroke; and fathers a severely crip-
pled daughter whose death convinces him “no child should ever be born
to him again” (184). He learns that Stephen Wonham, a rustic drunk raised
by Rickie’s aunt Emily, is his illegitimate half-brother. More conventional
than he would like to think, Rickie blames his hated father for the bastard
and accordingly rejects Stephen; in reality, Stephen is the son of Rickie’s
beloved mother and Robert, a farmer. The revelation should surprise no
one, for the kinship had to be maternal: all Elliots have a clubfoot, and
Stephen has not. In any case, Rickie has a change of heart, leaves Agnes,
moves to the country and dies under the train as inevitably as Anna Kar-
enina. The novel closes idyllically with Stephen, now married and living
off the royalties of Rickie’s posthumously successful book, camping in the
woods with a daughter named after his and Rickie’s mother.
My crude summary strips the novel of its charm, but it suffices for
demonstrating the narrative’s structural reliance on genealogy. “We are
expected always to bear the circumstances of [Rickie’s] parentage in
mind,” as an early reviewer complained (qtd. in Gardner, E.M.  Forster,
66). Like Howards End,The Longest Journey is shaped by genealogical
events. Like Howards End, it enacts its drama and generates its values by
having biological bloodlines overlap with and diverge from material or
spiritual legacies. Like Howards End,it features the tortuously indirect
inheritance of a country house and exploits the contrasts between legiti-
macy and bastardy, and between being “normal” and being cursed with
“something congenital or hereditary” (Howards 285). Both novels resolve
their notoriously complicated plots and give coherence to their unwieldy
narrative structures by dividing the labour of inheritance between siblings.
Unlike his use of siblings, Forster’s engagements with heredity enjoy
little attention. Yet the two issues are inextricable. In Howards End, for
example, Margaret Schlegel inherits Howards End but, choosing child-
lessness, bequeaths the house to her sister’s illegitimate son. In “Tony
and Ralph,” the titular males find a way to live together through Ralph’s
marriage of convenience to Tony’s sister. In The Longest Journey, the sib-
ling relation is so important that the whole narrative hangs on the precise
nature of Rickie and Stephen’s kinship and on the actions their kinship
The Longest Journey heralds its genetic concerns early. We soon learn
that Rickie is “rather lame” and that his lameness is “hereditary” (6, 9).
His difficulties are then summarized as a predicament reminiscent of Har-
dy’s Jude: “‘He says he can’t ever marry, owing to his foot. It wouldn’t be
fair to posterity. His grandfather was crocked, his father too, and he’s as
bad. He thinks that it’s hereditary, and may get worse next generation
He daren’t risk having any children’” (50). Consistent with such genetic
determinism, Rickie frequently appears as a replica of his father. Even to
his mother he is, unflatteringly, “the little boy who looked exactly like”
her husband. At first glance, then, the novel seems to posit an inexo-
rable hereditary curse, whereby ‘“the sins of the parents are visited on
the children”’ (Longest 261). Nowhere is Forster more clearly indebted
to Naturalism and its assumption of “absolute determinism in all human
phenomena” (Zola, “Roman”324). The Elliot curse recalls the “thrust of
[the] hereditary lesion” in Zola’s Germinal (1885), which drives Étienne,
“despite his communist theories” and “his moral education,” to drink and
“end up an assassin” (566, 423). Determinism hangs as inexorably, if less
heavily, over Rickie. So he is understandably annoyed when Aunt Emily
tells him, ‘“you are so like your father It is curious – almost terrible – to
see history repeating itself”’ (Longest 92).
The Longest Journeys hereditary vision is, however, more nuanced, and
its complexity rests partly on Forster’s ability to use up-to-date theories
of heredity. For historical if for no other reasons, Zola’s novels are vague
about the hereditary operations that shape his Rougon-Macquart cycle.
In the preface to Lafortune des Rougon (1871), the families he “studies”
are victims of hereditary energies and inclinations, of “the slow succes-
sion of neurological and blood symptoms that arise in a race following an
original organic lesion and determine in individuals of that race, accord-
ing to the environment, the emotions, desires, passions, all those human
manifestations whose products are called virtues or vices” (“Préface”
302). This view, typical of mid-nineteenth-century science, assigns family
resemblances to contending ancestral forces, habits, or tendencies. In the
decades leading up to Forster’s novel, however, such models were being
discredited by evidence for inheritance by material particles (Olby 63;
Mayr 735). Galton’s particles, Weismann’s biophores, and Hugo de Vries’s
pangens all require, in various ways, “a transportation of material particles
Kin Selection, Mendel, and Forster’s Longest Journey 253
254 Daniel Aureliano Newman
which are bearers of the individual hereditary characteristics” (Vries,
Intracellular Pangenesis 7).
The genetic theory implicit in The Longest Journey is of the particulate
variety. This may be unexpected: Forster is typically considered a disciple
of Samuel Butler’s theory of unconscious memory and progressive evolu-
tion (Heath, Creator as  Critic 328). All the same, The  Longest  Journey
contains a single explicit reference to genetics, and it foregrounds particu-
late inheritance, which is almost necessarily incompatible with Lamarck-
ism. Thus, Emily mocks the pamphlets Stephen reads to support his
evolutionism: ‘“One of those sixpenny books tells [him] that he’s made of
hard little black things, another that he’s made of brown things, larger and
squashy. There seems a discrepancy, but anything is better for a thought-
ful youth than to be made in the Garden of Eden”’ (103). Emily references
contemporary debates about heredity, but both sides assume physical
units – “little black” or “brown things.” Her sarcasm could be read as a
reliable indicator of the novel’s genetic vision, but this reading is unsup-
ported by the text: The Longest Journey always sides with Stephen against
Emily. Moreover, she knows enough about how Stephen was “made” – in
a real-life imitation of ‘“French comedy”’ (236), complete with cuckoldry,
elopement, and farcical hypocrisy – to raise the reader’s suspicions about
the sincerity of her appeal to the “Garden of Eden.”
This passage must suffice, given the absence of Lamarckian or other
such alternatives, to align the novel’s genetic theory with particulate inher-
itance. Particles, unlike forces, are highly conserved across generations,
retaining their molecular identity despite the vicissitudes of their carri-
ers’ lives. This conservatism has a weird corollary. Heredity is not about
the person, or personal essence or identity, but about the particles housed
within that person. Galton vividly illustrates this odd logic by likening
the body to “a post office” and genetic particles to “heaps of letters” (qtd.
in Olby, 63): the post office is just temporary storage space, and it is the
letters and their movements that matter. If hereditary units are particles
whose integrity and identity are conserved despite their carrier’s environ-
ment and actions, their fate is at least partly distinct from that of the car-
rier. As Galton and later Weismann argued, the hereditary line (Galton’s
stirp, Weismann’s germ-plasm) is fundamentally distinct from the body
(Galton’s person, Weismann’s soma). In Weismann’s words, “The cells of
the organism are differentiated into two essentially different groups, the
reproductive cells – ova or spermatozoa, and the somatic cells, or cells of
the body The immortality of the unicellular organism has only passed
over to the former; the others must die, and since the body of the individual
is chiefly composed of them, it must die also” (Essays 111). This model, as
retrospect reveals, approximates the gene-centred view of evolution.
The germ-soma division allows us to reassess Rickie and Stephen’s rela-
tion. They are, in this light, two somatic bodies whose germ lines over-
lap and whose genetic fates are therefore partially co-implicated. Rickie’s
change of heart about Stephen thus appears to be justified by the novel’s
genetic theory. When Rickie thinks Stephen is his paternal half-brother, he
imagines they are competing for posterity. When his daughter dies, then,
the outcome of the competition seems fixed: “There isn’t any future,” he
tells Agnes, believing that “he, because his child had died, was dead” (190,
192). So he is rather upset by the prospect of healthy Stephen propagating
the Elliot line. “As a final insult,” Rickie muses, his father
had brought into the world a man unlike all the rest of them, a man dowered
with coarse kindliness and rustic strength, a kind of cynical ploughboy, against
whom their own misery and weakness might stand more vividly relieved
For that Stephen was bad inherently he never doubted for a moment and
he would  have children: he, not Rickie, would contribute to the stream; he,
through his remote posterity, might be mingled with the unknown sea. (192,
my emphasis)
The metaphorical equation of stream and lineage remains after Rickie dis-
covers his maternal relation to Stephen. But its connotations change for
the better:
Something had changed On the banks of the gray torrent of life, love is
the only flower. A little way up the stream and a little way down had Rickie
glanced, and he knew that she whom he loved had risen from the dead, and
might rise again. “Come away – let them die out – let them die out Let me
die out. She will continue,” he murmured, and in making plans for Stephen’s
happiness, fell asleep. (250–1)
Moments earlier, Rickie had saved his drunken half-brother from tipping
over a banister, signalling his change of heart and foreshadowing his death.
Knowing his true relation to Stephen, he finds his world transformed. Yet
nothing structural has changed in the relation between them; according to
the branches of a family tree they are still as closely related, half-brothers.
The source of kinship matters more than its degree.
Significantly, Rickie, who resembles his father more than his mother,
had already sensed fellow-feeling for Stephen ‘“down in what they call
Kin Selection, Mendel, and Forster’s Longest Journey 255
256 Daniel Aureliano Newman
the subconscious self”’ (191) – in, it could be said, the maternal elements
lying latent in him. In any case, with the revelation of their maternal rela-
tion, what began as competition becomes what behavioural ecologists call
reciprocal altruism. By facilitating Stephen’s survival he ensures the sur-
vival of part of his own genetic makeup. Rickie believes himself “unfitted
in body” and “in soul” (81), as he must remember every time he sings his
school anthem, which begins, ‘“Perish each laggard!”’ (158). This line, as
implausible as it may seem, is lifted unchanged from Forster’s own child-
hood school anthem, and Rickie probably sings it, as did Forster, think-
ing he will “be a prisoner throughout life’s battle.” The way out, writes
Forster, is having “the courage to become a laggard” (“Literature” 89). In
Stephen, Rickie finds the courage and a reason to let himself perish.
It is not pure selflessness that moves him to “gaz[e] at the pure stream
to which he would never contribute” and sacrifice himself so that Ste-
phen might contribute instead. It is, rather, an “apparent strateg[y]” (Buss
263) for transmitting the maternal traits he considers the best of him, hap-
pily divorced from any Elliot element. Rickie has found a way to sur-
vive genetically, to live on in the next generation without contributing
directly to it. The situation recalls Darwin’s early version of kin selec-
tion, designed to explain how traits in sterile individuals might neverthe-
less survive genealogically: “I have such faith in the powers of selection,”
writes Darwin, “that I do not doubt that a breed of cattle, always yielding
oxen with extraordinarily long horns, could be slowly formed by carefully
watching which individual bulls and cows, when matched, produced oxen
with the longest horns; and yet no one ox could ever have propagated
its kind” (238). Voluntarily sterile as an ox, Rickie may be “a stream that
never reaches the ocean” (246). But “streams do divide” (272): a channel
of his mother’s stream is in him, combined with the Elliot line, but another
channel, untouched by Elliot blood, has been diverted into Stephen. For
Rickie, this makes his brother “the future of our race” (289).
The dividing streams offer Rickie a chance to correct a past mistake: his
mother’s naive ‘“marrying into the Elliot family”’ (235)a choice aptly
described, given the novel’s fluvial conceit, as “a plunge taken from
the opposite bank” (22). By sacrificing himself for Stephen, he aborts the
future of his paternal line without imperilling the maternal. This goal he
cannot achieve as an individual; though he does symbolically manage to
divorce his maternal and paternal selves when the train severs his (it is
implied) crippled leg, the severance costs him his somatic life.
Instead, the effective division of streams occurs at the genetic level,
in the future children that Rickie had previously begrudged his brother.
Helping Stephen now appears an interested act: Rickie saves Stephen
so that Stephen can perpetuate the genetic particles they share. Reading
Rickie’s sacrifice as reciprocal altruism is supported by a draft of the previ-
ously quoted passage beginning “Something had changed” (250). Having
discovered his true relation to Stephen, Rickie kisses his brother as “the
portrait of their mother look[s] down upon them both” and prophesies:
“She has risen from the dead Living in houses, as I must, we forget Nature.
But at times she enters and makes her comment. She has commented on
me. I daresay you have heard about my child I can bear to die out now
I have seen just a little way up and down the generations, and I know there is
a purpose in the tiny corner of the world that I have touched I stand with
my face to the night[, but] it is not really darkness, for [those] I loved are
handing the torches on Nothing greater could happen to me – not even a 
child of my own.” (376, my emphasis)
Rickie’s survey of both past and future reveals the role he must play in
order to extend, despite his refusal to have “a child of [his] own,” his
genetic existence. He must purge the Elliot from the extension of his
mother’s line. In Rickie the two lineages coexist, but Stephen is not so
burdened (he inherits, however, his father Robert’s alcoholism).
The determinism in The Longest Journey is less devastating than Zola’s,
but not because Forster’s genetic theory is gentler. It is, instead, determin-
istic in ways that are neither simple nor linear. The Elliot curse is an irrevo-
cable fact for Rickie, but it tells only half of his hereditary story; the other
half is told by his mother. The genetic shuffling that accompanies repro-
duction belies any vulgar form of genetic determinism, by which we are
copies of one of our parents. As we have seen, Rickie seems at first a copy
of his father, who “resembled his son, being weakly and lame, with hollow
little cheeks, a broad white band of forehead, and stiff impoverished hair”
(22). His mother finds him to be “exactly like [his father] in disposition”
(239). Yet the narrator insists they are not identical: Mr. Elliot’s “voice,
which he did not transmit, was very suave Nor did he transmit his eyes
(22, my emphases).
Rickie does not, in fact, exactly resemble his father in every trait; some
traits, those the narrative deems desirable, descend from his mother. As
in Weismann’s theory, Rickie’s inheritance involves recombination, the
shuffling of genetic particles so necessary for introducing variation into
procreation. Recombination on its own, however, does not allow Rick-
ie’s genetic survival in Stephen’s daughter. As in most nineteenth-century
Kin Selection, Mendel, and Forster’s Longest Journey 257
258 Daniel Aureliano Newman
genetic theories, including Darwin’s and Galton’s (as well as Butler’s),
Weismann’s model assumes the fusion of parental characters, producing
in the offspring an indivisible blend (see, e.g., Germ-Plasm 239). If inheri-
tance is blending, Rickie and Stephen still share maternal genetic material;
but the material is altered by the paternal elements with which it is mixed,
and there is therefore no real genetic identity between the half-brothers.
To put it schematically,
Mr Elliot + Mrs Elliot Rickie
Robert + Mrs Elliot Stephen
× +
The maternal element shared by Rickie and Stephen exists (), to be
sure, but its molecular identity has been modified. This blending model
precludes the type of genetic survival I have outlined for Rickie, for in
no sense would any part of him literally be preserved in Stephen and his
This outcome, which the novel appears to endorse, requires that mater-
nal and paternal elements unite without fusing, retaining their integrity
and independence:
Mr Elliot + Mrs Elliot Rickie
+ §
Robert + Mrs Elliot Stephen
Θ× + § ×
If inheritance is non-blending, odds are good Rickie and Stephen share
, an atomistic genetic element unchanged by its combination with the
complementary elements from different fathers.
The genetic theory in question must be Mendelism. Though formulated
in the 1860s, Mendel’s discoveries failed to reach a substantial audience
before 1900, when they were rediscovered by de Vries, Carl Correns, and
Erich von Tschermak and then, in England, championed by William Bate-
son and popularized by Reginald Punnett in Mendelism  (1905). Mendel
would also find a champion in Forster.
Mendelian inheritance involves genetic particles (now called genes),
each coding for a specific trait. Each gene is transmitted independently
from the genes coding for other traits. This is the Mendelian Law of Inde-
pendent Assortment (the other is the Law of Segregation, which states
that somatic cells contain two copies of each gene-variant, or allele, e.g.,
Rickie’s , but that each sex cell contains only one of the other, i.e.,
either or ) (Morgan, Physical Basis 15–16). The independence of each
allele from the others allows offspring to inherit idiosyncratic mixes of
their parents’ genetic constitution.
Paternal inheritance is, in Rickie, the primary source of traits mentioned
in the text, and it largely determines his development and life story. But
the narrative clearly favours the maternal source, and from this valuation
emerges a crucial system of narrative values. Knowing to consider what
traits Rickie inherited from which parent, we find ourselves more attuned
to the novel’s norms. Because we know Rickie inherited his eyes from his
mother and his club foot from his father, for example, we can deduce a lot
from metaphors like Rickie “shut[ting] his eyes” to the failure of his mar-
riage or dying from the amputation of his crippled foot.
Rickie’s voice is especially significant. It is the special property and
gift of his mother, “a girl whose voice was beautiful. There was no caress
in it yet all who heard it were soothed, as though the world held some
unexpected blessing” (22). Rickie even owes his existence to it, for it is
what brought his parents together. We are never told explicitly that Rickie
inherited his mother’s voice, but this is strongly implied by the negation of
paternal inheritance: Mr Elliot’s “voice he did not transmit” (22). The
maternal inheritance of voice is further supported in the metonymy that
reduces Rickie to one of “the voices of boys who should call her mother”
(240). The other boy, Stephen, does have her voice; when he asks Rickie
to leave Agnes, Rickie has no real reason to accept, but he is persuaded by
one crucial, hereditary reminder of his mother. Stephen’s
words were kind; yet it was not for their sake that Rickie plunged into the
impalpable cloud. In the voice he had found a surer guarantee. Habits and
sex may change with the new generation, features may alter with the play of
a private passion, but a voice is apart from these. It lies nearer to the racial
essence and perhaps to the divine; it can, at all events, overleap one grave.
In Stephen’s voice Rickie hears his mother and therefore, for the first time,
can see Stephen as one of the “real brothers” he pined for when he was a
boy (24).
Rickie’s lameness and voice have different sources, and they therefore
exert separate influences on our understanding of Rickie as a character.
Each of his traits must be considered independently. Reading Rickie’s fate
Kin Selection, Mendel, and Forster’s Longest Journey 259
260 Daniel Aureliano Newman
and relation to Stephen, we must follow Bateson’s Mendelian warning
against seeing heredity at the individual level: instead, “the heredity of
each character [trait] must be separately investigated” (Mendel’s 8). This
allows us to disentangle and decouple the genetic material combined in his
soma and to look beyond the individual and “a little way up and down
the generations” (Longest  376). Decoupling the inheritance of paternal
lameness from maternal voice, Forster allows the genetic overlap between
Rickie and Stephen to perform a material, as well as symbolic, role in Rick-
ie’s fate: genes identical to his, genes sharing a common history, literally
survive in Stephen’s daughter, a possibility inconceivable under blending
inheritance. Thus, Forster proposes a genetic escape from genetic deter-
minism. Realizing he embodies not one but two lineages, Rickie finds an
escape from the genetic curse that, he thought, led only to his extinction.
“The son of his mother had come back,” the narrator says (Longest 249),
referring to Stephen but using free indirect discourse and deictic shifters
(“the son,” his mother”) to include also Rickie. Agnes is right, though
not in the way she imagines, to believe ‘“he’ll come back in the end”’ (261).
This Mendelian solution, easily accommodated into the Inclusive Fitness
framework, is rather neat. Too neat – for it cannot quiet a lingering doubt,
which I must detail before venturing on to suggest how Forster uses genet-
ics strategically to further his ethical and political beliefs and construct his
queer and modernist poetics.
The narrative solution of making Stephen a maternal brother may sat-
isfy a gene-centred reading, but it lends a troubling triumphalism to Rick-
ie’s death. Some readers are, of course, untroubled and applaud Rickie’s
self-sacrifice. To Frieda Lawrence, for example, “Rickie of course isn’t a
bit dead, it’s only one of those many healthsome deaths one dies” (qtd. in
Gardner, 97). My own reading is not innocent of such abstraction. Also
troubling, Forster’s solution perhaps too starkly reduces the desire for
one’s own children to the genetic rewards of procreation, and thus risks
endorsing Rickie’s willingness to forgo the children he wanted. Unsettling
is his realization of “the cruelty of Nature, to whom our refinement and
piety are but as bubbles, hurrying downwards on the turbid waters. They
break, and the stream continues” (192). At the human scale, the cost to
him is too high and paid perhaps too readily. Is Rickie’s death not a little
too convenient, an easy way to eliminate an “unfitted” character (Lon-
gest 81)? Is not Stephen’s inheritance of Rickie’s posthumous royalties the
novel’s way of saying it ‘“can’t stand unhealthiness”’ (49)? Does it not
endorse Rickie’s self-loathing attempt to restore the status quo by offering
his (monetary) inheritance to Agnes and her fiancé Gerald, thus harmo-
nizing good income with good heredity?
Let us register these important concerns, but without repudiating the
genetic reading above. Abandoning the genetic perspective would be to
throw the baby out with the bathwater. Indeed, a biologically informed
reading of The  Longest Journey proves not at all inconsistent with For-
ster’s career-long assault on prejudice or, for that matter, with recent
queer interpretations of his work. In fact, by resolving Forster’s seem-
ingly paradoxical investment in both non-reproductive homoeroticism
and procreation, the model by which Rickie survives genetically in Ste-
phen’s daughter grants the homosexual soma freedom from the genealogi-
cal imperative, without entirely closing off the genealogical future. It is
telling that Edward Carpenter, whom Forster admired, would point to the
“evolution of the worker-bee” from “two ordinary bee sexes” (Intermedi-
ate 11) – the very phenomenon that inspired Darwin to hypothesize kin
selection as a model of how homosexuals might contribute to a more
harmonious future society.
Carpenter deplored the increasing differences between heterosexual
men and women, a polarization he considered a symptom of unchecked
progress. If individuals or societies are too forward-driven, he argues,
their energies are dissipated and they become “woody” and “ossified”
(Angels 244). The best hope for the future is, he suggests elsewhere, the
mediating influence of “the intermediate sex or sexes” (Intermediate 12).
Homosexuality thus contributes to Carpenter’s notion of “the Return to
Nature,” “a reversionary process” or “counter-current” whereby “one …
feels back within oneself for another point of departure farther down”
(Angels 219, 246–7). Carpenter defines the return to nature both as indi-
vidual and society tonic and as evolutionary reversion, illuminating how
Rickie, who tends to settle for a bad lot, is awoken by his true relation
with the child of nature Stephen.
The boost Rickie feels from glancing “a little way up the stream and
a little way down” (Longest250) signals how his kinship with Stephen
might serve his own interests. In a maternal half-brother, he finds a genetic
alternative to having “a child of [his] own” without sacrificing what he
inherited from his mother (Longest 376). He recognizes a way to unmarry
her from the Elliot family. Rickie’s reversionary return to nature is not
only the theme of his stories (all “harping on this ridiculous idea of getting
into touch with Nature” [71]): it is the fate of his genes. At a moral and
genealogical impasse, Rickie is saved by a sort of strategic atavism an
artistic return to myth, a literal move to the Wiltshire countryside, and a
Kin Selection, Mendel, and Forster’s Longest Journey 261
262 Daniel Aureliano Newman
genetic step back that allows him to revive his mother’s line and simultane-
ously shed his paternal inheritance. It is a boost because he can fulfil this
goal without yielding to the reproductive imperative.
Forster’s homosexual Maurice Hall finds happiness by accepting,
despite his desire for children, ‘“the way of all sterility”’ (Maurice 78).
But in the formally if not substantively queerer Longest Journey, Rickie
need not make such a choice, though he, too, resigns himself to childless-
ness. Nor must he follow Clive Durham and ‘“become normal”’ in order
to fulfil ‘“the need of an heir’” (Maurice 97). For Clive, procreation is the
key to status and a conventionally good life, so he chooses to perpetuate
the “visible work” of his forebears, who “handed on the torch their sons
would tread out” (Maurice 78). Rickie, thanks to his partial genetic iden-
tity with Stephen, finds another means of “handing the torches on” (Lon-
gest 376), which demands not a pragmatic switch to heterosexuality and
conventionality but a principled and deeply felt switch away from them.
He must reject his loveless marriage and bleak suburban job and follow
Stephen into the countryside. Clive compromises himself by accepting to
let “Nature ca[tch] up this dropped stitch in order to continue her pat-
tern” (Maurice 114), but Rickie, through Stephen, can remain a “dropped
stitch” and yet still contribute materially to the genealogical “pattern.”
My brief excursion into Carpenter’s ideas suggests that Rickie’s sacri-
fice might avail itself of queer interpretations not yet envisaged by queer
theorists. Forster studies have been profoundly reinvigorated by queer
theory, thanks largely to Judith Herz’s identification of the “double nature
of Forster’s fiction” (“Double Nature” 254). In this model, Forster’s fic-
tions underlay the heterosexual surface-plot (darling of Merchant-Ivory
productions) with a homosexual under-plot. This duality is often pre-
sented competitively, following Herz’s argument that “one [plot] is true,
the other a lie. Finally one or the other is displaced” (257). Of TheLongest 
Journey, for instance, Scott Nelson bemoans Rickie and Stephen’s kinship
as a betrayal of the under-plot: “Forster displaces the homoerotic elements
of the ‘friendship’ by making them half-brothers” (qtd. in Miracky, 141).
Herz’s model has helped uncover in Forster’s fiction a veritable wealth
of ethical, ideological and aesthetic complexity. Yet such a powerful model
inevitably brings its own blinders. An unfortunate consequence of focus-
ing on the under-plot has therefore been the neglect of elements too eas-
ily attributed to the surface, heterosexual “lie.” Illustrating this neglect,
John Beer argues that “homosexuality gave [Forster] an ‘outsider’s’ view
of things, making him look at the world from a point of view which did
not regard marriage or the procreation of children as central” (qtd. in
Martland, E.M. Forster, 20). Beer is not wrong, but his argument signifi-
cantly underrates the importance, also noted by Elizabeth Heine (“Edi-
tor’s Introduction” xxi), of reproduction throughout Forster’s fiction. In
Where Angels Fear to Tread, Gino and Lilia’s baby is part of the hetero-
sexual surface-plot, but he also energizes, by his parentage and death, the
homoerotic under-plot linking Gino and Philip (Herz 255). Forster often
thus distances reproduction from a simple heteronormative ideal: parents
are of mixed race or rank (Lilia and Gino; Helen and Leonard; Mrs Elliot
and Robert), and their offspring tend to catalyse same-sex dynamics (Gino
and Philip; Helen and Margaret; Rickie and Stephen).
A reading sensitive to genetics disputes the view that Rickie’s death is
an aesthetic and political failure, on Forster’s part, to let his plot endorse
the homoerotic bond between Rickie and Stephen. Contemporary sexol-
ogy had established that homosexuality was at least sometimes congenital,
as Forster knew (Heine xxi–iv). It is therefore important to examine how
The Longest Journey coordinates its queer poetics with its complex treat-
ment of heredity. A key dynamic here is, I think, the favouring of horizon-
tal over vertical genetic transmission, which Stefani Engelstein discusses
in her contribution to this volume. A pertinent example here would be
how kin selection has been invoked to explain the otherwise perplexing
evolutionary survival of the “gay gene” (Ridley 279–80), and in Forster’s
novel it similarly bridges, tentatively, the apparently unbridgeable surface
and under-plots. It allows different fates for the men and for their genes.
On one level Rickie can follow Stephen “as a man” and “not as a brother”
(257), thus preserving the homoeroticism some critics find incompat-
ible with kinship (Miracky 141); on the other, genetic level the narrative
exploits the precise nature of their kinship in order to further a seemingly
contradictory set of interests.
This is not to say biology resolves everything. Indeed, The  Longest 
Journey, like all Forster’s novels, features an absolutely central system of
non-genetic connections, which space prevents me from examining (these
include, most notably, the affinities between Mr Failing and his “spiritual
heir” Rickie (195) and between Rickie and Ansell). Even so, a genetic read-
ing challenges the facile equation of the hetero/homosexual, reproductive/
non-reproductive, and biological/cultural dichotomies.
A genetic perspective transcends these categories largely because it
complicates and revises what it means to be an individual. Critics who
deplore The Longest Journeys incoherence as “a confused and inadequate
vision of life” (Colmer 64) are, one might say, too narrowly focused
on the human level in a narrative that defamiliarizes what it is to be a
Kin Selection, Mendel, and Forster’s Longest Journey 263
264 Daniel Aureliano Newman
human. If, by contrast, we read Rickie as a bundle of independent traits
with underlying genetic particles, a surprising parallel emerges between
his self-inconsistency and those of the narrative itself. John Harvey might
be writing about the character instead of the novel when he complains
that “the disparate elements of which it is composed are never brought
together into any kind of unity; at best they lie uneasily side by side” (qtd.
in Colmer, 64). Sure, even the most post-humanist among us probably
fails to be consoled by the view that our persons are evolutionarily dispos-
able, and it is neither possible nor really desirable to be totally comfortable
with Rickie’s death. But the discomfort is instructive, because it not only
highlights the undeniable aesthetic and political compromises in Forster’s
narrative solution, but also signals his attempt to reimagine character, and
by extension humanness, in politically and ethically productive ways.
As a character, Rickie hardly coheres. He is, as Agnes tactfully ven-
tures, ‘“a little – complicated”’ (104). At least one contemporary reviewer
agreed: “Rickie is drawn with too much care, his broader tendencies
obscured by too many minor touches” (qtd. in Gardner, 66). The minor
touches are so prominent that Rickie never becomes a character in the
sense of “a repeatable integrity of form” (Abbott, “Character and Mod-
ernism” 393) or “a compendium of traits which gradually concatenate
into a represented whole” (Levenson, Modernism 109). He has, as another
early reviewer notes, “capacities for re-organizing himself” (Gardner 89)
and even his name indicates his being “rickety” (“Mr. Elliot had dubbed
him Rickie because he was rickety”; 23). To the end, he remains a more
or less jumbled collection of physical features, ideas, attitudes, phrases,
many of which survive, through genetic or other modes of transmission,
his somatic death.
It is in this character incoherence that Forster carves out a future for
Rickie or rather for particles of Rickie. Recast as an archive of inde-
pendent genes, Rickie avails himself of partial resurrection through what
I have called strategic atavism, a biologically inflected development that is
politically potent because atavism “punctures the modern idea of the self
as individual and autonomous,” and, as such, “open[s] up liberal notions
of the privatized subject to the genealogical record” (Seitler, Atavistic
Tendencies 2). Excluded by his disability and sexuality from so much of
his world, Rickie is given some form of hope in the failure to cohere,
a failure allowing Forster to reclaim, as did Carpenter, the “reversion-
ary process” (Carpenter, Angels’ 246)that was written off as pathology
or perversion by contemporary racist, misogynistic, and homophobic
Forster valued Mendel because his theory explained scientifically why
humans, like peas, “keep throwing up recessive characteristics,” ata-
visms (“Racial” 19). Mendelism, in Forster’s view, confronts the human
“desire to feel a hundred per cent” – the dangerous longing behind class-
consciousness, nationalism and racism. From being “all of a piece” (ibid.),
the self is reconstituted by Mendelism as a mosaic, each piece indepen-
dent, some pieces lying latent until their reversion generations later.
Such atavisms participate rather subtly in The Longest Journey, in the
genealogical structure of the narrative and under the cloak of symbolism
worn by phrases like“risen from the dead” (Longest 251). But there is
one intriguing hint of specifically Mendelian heredity: Robert, Stephen’s
father, woos Mrs Elliot with “an armful of sweet-peas” (235), his plant
leitmotif. Sweet peas were also, of course, a favourite of early Mendelians,
yielding some of the first major discoveries of twentieth-century experi-
mental genetics. As Punnett writes in the preface to the 1907 edition of
Mendelism, “the sweet pea and the stock have yielded up their secret, and
we are at last able to form a clear conception of the meaning of ‘reversion’”
(vi). Later in the book, he notes that “the case of the sweet pea throws a
flood of light upon a widespread phenomenon which has long puzzled
the naturalist: the phenomenon of reversion on crossing,” whereby white-
flowered plants give plants with “red, or purple” flowers (Punnett 53).
When Mrs Elliot elopes with Robert, her husband finds the drawing room
“littered with sweet-peas. Their colour got on his nerves – magenta, crim-
son; magenta, crimson. He tried to pick them up, and they escaped. He
trod them underfoot, and they multiplied and danced in the triumph of
summer like a thousand butterflies” (236–7). It seems that in the union
that will produce Stephen, reversion has bested Mr Elliot, ‘“a country man
on the road to sterility”’ (246).
The genetic vision behind such biological references is elucidated by
more explicitly biological moments in Forster’s other works. In Arctic
Summer, Venetia Whitby, who understands heredity as “Mendelism”
(148), outlines how the “desire to feel a hundred per cent” induces snobs
to overlook the “recessive characteristics” that inconveniently pop up as
atavistic reminders of their true, mixed pedigree (“Racial” 19). ‘“A gene-
alogical tree that is genealogical would be valuable,”’ she admits; “but …
people are so apt to make a fuss about their eminent ancestors and to
hush up those who aren’t. I know by my father. When he talks of ‘fam-
ily’ he means only his grandmother’s family. On the other sides he was
nothing, and this gives a false view There’s no such thing as ‘family’
in England” (Arctic 151). A similar point appears in Where Angels Fear 
Kin Selection, Mendel, and Forster’s Longest Journey 265
266 Daniel Aureliano Newman
to Tread. Accused by Philip Herriton of misrepresenting her fiancé as
“a member of the Italian nobility,” Lilia strikes back: “‘Well, we put it
like that in the telegram so as not to shock dear Mrs. Herriton. But it is
true. He is a younger branch. Of course families ramify – just as in yours
there is your cousin Joseph.’ She adroitly picked out the only undesir-
able member of the Herriton clan” (25). Forster probably did not have
Mendel on the mind when he wrote Lilia’s reply, though such an inten-
tion is plausible: his theories were much talked about in the early 1900s.
But it hardly matters either way. More importantly, Forster would later
find in Mendel a kindred spirit, a scientist whose theories shored up his
own principles.
Over thirty years after The  Longest  Journey, Forster would reiterate
and develop Lilia’s and Venetia’s genealogical arguments. A remarkable
appeal to Mendel appears in a 1939 BBC broadcast aimed at “the ridicu-
lous doctrine of Race Purity” (“Racial” 18). His target, given the imminent
war, is obvious; but behind his urgent anti-Nazism lies a broader attack
on snobbery and its links to genealogy – an attack familiar to readers of
his novels. Scientific racism and family snobbery differ, he implies, only
in degree; both draw on age-old myths of origins and blood purity. For-
ster challenges his audience: “Can you give the names of your eight great-
grandparents?” Family pride, he implies, stems from the same stock ideas
as Nazi race policy, and both are wrong – ethically and empirically – for
they always conceal something “mortifying” (“Racial” 17):
We can often get six or seven [great-grandparents], seldom the whole eight.
And the human mind is so dishonest and so snobby, that we instinctively
reject the eighth as not mattering, and as playing no part in our biological
make-up. As each of us looks back into his or her past, doors open upon
darkness On such a shady past as this – our common past – do we erect
the ridiculous doctrine of Racial Purity. (“Racial” 18)
The doctrine is ridiculous because, “whether there ever was such an entity
as a ‘pure race,’” historical migrations and imperialism have ensured “there
never can be a pure race in the future. Europe is mongrel for ever, and so
is America” (“Racial” 18).
The doctrine is also ridiculous because it rests on “pseudo-science”
(“Racial” 19), so Forster is canny to conclude his attack with an appeal to
science. Freud and Einstein are mentioned – an oblique dig at the German
state that demonized two of its own world-class scientists. But Forster’s
real praise is for yet another German-speaking scientist whose theories
inconvenience Nazi “pseudo-science.”
Behind our problem of the eight great-grandparents stands the civilizing fig-
ure of Mendel He embodies a salutary principle, and even when we are
superficial about him he helps to impress it in our minds. He suggests that
no stock is pure, and that it may at any moment throw up forms which are
unexpected, and which it inherits from the past He has unwittingly put a
valuable weapon into the hands of civilized people. We don’t know what our
ancestors were like or what our descendants will be like. We only know that
we are all of us mongrels, dark haired and light haired, who must learn not to
bite one another. (“Racial” 19–20)
Forster may be simplifying Mendel’s contribution to science and ethics
in concluding that peas, like humans, “keep throwing up recessive char-
acteristics, and cause us to question the creed of racial purity” (“Racial”
19), but he is hardly superficial. His views on Mendel and Nazism are
directly informed by Julian Huxley and A.C. Haddon’s We Europeans 
(Forster, Commonplace  301), and he clearly understands the Mendelian
fact that “pure individuals may be bred from impure ones” (Bateson, Nat-
uralist 183). In this remarkable phenomenon, Forster foresees the end of
purity in any traditional sense of the word, and with it an end to scientific
and genealogical apologies for prejudice. Insofar as purity survives after
Mendelism, its applications have been evicted from blood or individual
essence to single traits, where it bears the less catchy name of homozygos-
ity. What looks like purity, moreover, often is not: seventy-five individu-
als that are pure for a given trait, writes Bateson, “are not all alike, but
consist of twenty-five which are pure dominants and fifty which are really
cross-breds” (Naturalist176–7). As Forster would have read in We Euro-
peans, “the picture of the hereditary constitution of human groups [is]
very different from any which could be framed in the pre-Mendelian era”:
“Practically all human groups are of decidedly mixed origin” (103–4).
“The sense of purity is a puzzling, and at times a fearful thing,” says the
narrator of The Longest Journey. “It seems so noble, and it starts at one
with morality. But it is a dangerous guide” (139). But if purity is displaced
from human characters to “unit-characters” (Punnett 22ff.), Rickie’s sac-
rifice appears not more justified but certainly more nuanced than previ-
ously recognized. Now, though combined with Mr Elliot’s lineage in the
person of Rickie, his mother’s lineage is literally recoverable by future
Kin Selection, Mendel, and Forster’s Longest Journey 267
268 Daniel Aureliano Newman
generations, in the granddaughter who aptly bears her name (289). As
Walter Sutton explains Mendelism, “while in the organism, maternal and
paternal potentialities are present in the field of each character, the germ-
cells in respect to each character are pure” (231–2, original emphasis). Still,
purity at the genetic level says nothing about the organism. As Forster
observes, “too many factors are involved” in human heredity (“Racial” 19)
to say anything quite conclusively.
I am under no illusion of having solved the difficulties that disappoint
and delight readers of The Longest Journey. But I hope that, by investigat-
ing its treatment of genetics, my reading has opened a window among the
“million possible windows” that Henry James imagined for “the house
of fiction” (46). Other novels might offer similar views; but The Longest 
Journey is perhaps uniquely disposed to reveal that particularly strange
implication of Mendelism, still relevant today in the age of selfish genes:
The individual is an aggregate of unit-characters, and individuality is the
expression of a particular aggregation of such characters. Though often react-
ing upon one another, the factors on which these characters are based behave
as independent entities during the hereditary process, and heredity in con-
sequence we may regard as a method of analysis, enabling us to judge of the
number and condition of the unit-characters which go to make up the individ-
ual. The facts of heredity provide us with a series of reactions, which, if read
aright, reveal to us the constitution of the living thing. And in the constitution
of the living thing we have the key to its behaviour, to its potentialities and
limitations, to what it can become, and what it can produce. (Punnett 74–5)
Mendelism offers no skeleton “key” to Rickie’s “behaviour , potenti-
alities and limitations.” TheLongest Journey permits no way to “connect
up,” to borrow from Forster’s defence of homosexuality, “all the frag-
ments [Rickie] was born with” (qtd. in Heine, xxiv). But the perspective
of the gene reveals a different novel, shining new light on well-recognized
patterns and opening the window on entirely new interpretations.
I thank Stefani Engelstein for helpful comments on this essay, as well as Cannon
Schmitt and Melba Cuddy-Keane for invaluable criticism of an earlier draft. For
funding, I thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada and the
University of Toronto.
1 Throughout this essay, I favour general and anachronistic terms like “heredi-
tary particle,” “genetic line,” and “genes” (in the colloquial sense) over, say,
“biophores” and “alleles.” Contemporary biologists used a dizzying array of
terms, most since abandoned, some misleading. My reading would gain little
from terminological fastidiousness, for its resolving power is limited by the
novel’s implicit genetic theory, which is, unsurprisingly, crude relative to its
scientific counterparts.
2 As Haldane himself wryly notes, “On the two occasions when I have pulled
possibly drowning people out of the water … I had no time to make such cal-
culations” as the model would require (qtd. in Dawkins 103).
3 The genetic challenge to traditional notions of selfhood helps explain why
I distance myself from Literary Darwinism, which assumes that readers
share evolved “psychological dispositions” that “provide a common basis for
understanding what is intelligible in … novels”; among these is “the idea of
the self” (Carroll, Literary Darwinism xiv, 145, 126). But the very idea of the
self is undermined by the genetic logic I find in Forster’s novel – incidentally,
a great example of an “unsatisfactory and confusing” novel about a “sociobio-
logically atypical” character (ibid. 145, 132).
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
In the past decade or so, a small but rapidly growing band of literary scholars, theorists, and critics has been working to integrate literary study with Darwinian social science. These scholars can be identified as the members of a distinct school in the sense that they share a certain broad set of basic ideas. They all take "the adapted mind" as an organizing principle, and their work is thus continuous with that of the "adaptationist program" in the social sciences. Adaptationist thinking is grounded in Darwinian conceptions of human nature. Adaptationists believe that all organisms have evolved through an adaptive process of natural selection and that complex functional structure in organic development gives prima facie evidence of adaptive constraint. They argue that the human mind and the human motivational and behavioral systems display complex functional structure, and they make it their concern to identify the constituent elements of an evolved human nature: a universal, speciestypical array of behavioral and cognitive characteristics. They presuppose that all such characteristics are genetically constrained and that these constraints are mediated through anatomical features and physiological processes, including the neurological and hormonal systems that directly regulate perception, thought, and feeling.
In Darwin s Plots, Gillian Beer writes that 'On the Origin of Species is one of the most extraordinary examples of a work which included more than the maker of it at the time knew, despite all that he did know'. Published in November 1859 with a print run of 1,250, Origin shook Victorian Britain. Its conclusions seemed inescapable. Life on earth was not the six-day product of a divine creator, but the outcome of random evolutionary process. Its impact was immediate and immense. Man 'was born yesterday - he will perish tomorrow' declared the Athenaeum. In later life Thomas Hardy declared himself one of its earliest acclaimers, and George Eliot and G. H. Lewes began reading it immediately, concluding within two days that it made 'an epoch'. The next year, in The Mill on the Floss, as Tom Tulliver shoots peas at a blue-bottle, the narrator observed that nature 'had provided Tom and the peas for the speedy destruction of this weak individual'. Through Origin, mid-Victorian concern with kinship, descent and inheritance, God, creation, origins and the place of humanity in nature found new expression, formulated new questions, and wrestled with disturbing and turbulent possibilities. The year 2000 has seen a timely second edition of Darwin s Plots, with a foreword by George Levine and a new preface by Beer. Since its first publication, the 'Darwin industry' has burgeoned industriously. Darwin has become, once more, central to cultural and scientific debate: fine biographies such as Janet Browne's Voyaging and Adrian Desmond and James Moore's Darwin have appeared; his Notebooks were published in 1987; and in 1985 the first volume of his letters and a register and summary of the fourteen thousand known letters to and from Darwin (now online).' Darwin's Plots explores the genesis and language of Darwin's evolutionary ideas, and their relationship to stories and myths within our culture, revealing that Darwin's story was new and transforming, going against the grain and upturning dominant cultural assumptions, but also that it was a multilayered narrative that was deeply embedded in the social and intellectual developments of its time. The final section draws out the implications of evolutionary theory for narrative and for the composition of fiction, providing analyses of George Eliot's and Hardy's imaginative responses to Darwin which are not only compelling but indispensable to our understanding of these writers, and of the development of the novel more generally in the late nineteenth century. Throughout, it raises issues which are no less vital to current debate and interpretation of Darwin than they were when he first challenged his contemporaries. The nineteenth century is no longer the last century; the twentieth century now separates us from it, a significant rival for the attentions of students that is likely to win in the 'relevance' stakes, as the moving image competes with the written word on undergraduate syllabuses. But nineteenth-century culture - and the science which stands at its centre - is essential to our understandipg of the present. Beer begins her new preface 'Darwin has grown younger in recent years'. And so he has; he is again at the centre of debates on what it is to be human, and on the role of science in understanding what we have come from, where we are going, as the Human Genome Project ripens, and biology is called upon to explain almost every aspect of social existence from social inequalities to health, sexuality and crime. This fascination with biology began with the Victorians.