Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century

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ISBN-13: 978-0231138789
ISBN-10: 0231138784
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Editorial Reviews


A stimulating and clarifying guide to a complicated and important subject, as well as a fresh perspective on eighteenth-century Britain.

(Patricia Meyer Spacks Journal of British Studies 1900-01-00)

required reading for students and scholars of eighteenth-century literature and aesthetics

(English Studies 1900-01-00)


Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century is one of the most compelling examples of the importance of literary studies I've come across in ages. An original and valuable contribution that will engage readers from a variety of fields.

(Helen Deutsch, University of California, Los Angeles)|

Jenny Davidson's new book reopens the rich tradition of debate on the relation between nature and culture in the long eighteenth century. It is hard to know what to praise most: Davidson's deep learning (worn lightly), the effervescent clarity of her presentation, or the generosity with which she lets us listen to a host of voices—some familiar, many not—that speak to a question that has lost none of its disturbing force today.

(Ian Duncan, University of California, Berkeley)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (December 31, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231138784
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231138789
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,896,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jenny Davidson is the author of four novels and two nonfiction books about eighteenth-century British literature. She has an insatiable lifelong appetite for novels and a more recent obsession with endurance sport; she is currently training for Ironman Wisconsin. She lives in New York City, where she teaches in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Her next book, Notes on Style: A Life in Sentences, will be published by Columbia University Press in 2014.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jay C. Smith on May 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century
Breeding is a scholarly study of ideas about nature versus nurture, focusing chiefly on eighteenth-century Britain and drawing primarily on literary sources. Persons with more than a passing interest in these matters, even non-academics, are likely to find it well worth reading. Jenny Davidson, a professor of comparative literature at Columbia who is also a published novelist (for both adults and teens), claims that she wants "to keep all the intensity and precision of academic writing, and the virtues of specialization, but to make what I write at least potentially open to readers in other disciplines, or in other walks of life." She succeeds. Breeding is both discerning and mostly free of literary studies jargon.

In the eighteenth century the word "breeding" connoted both bloodlines and upbringing, and Davidson observes that it continues to be charged with this tension between nature (a porous term that can take on many meanings) and nurture. In the 1700s "environmental" causes such as weather or nutrition were often invoked to explain human nature, health, and behavior. While it was recognized that children might look like their parents, it was not until the 1740s (in France) that a strong theory of bi-parental heredity emerged, and it remained controversial. By the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century period inheritance of moral or mental qualities as well as physical traits had become a topic of dispute, but we should remember that heredity was not understood very well at all until Mendel's studies became more broadly known in the early twentieth century.
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Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century
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