2012-13 MM Fictional Scientists

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  • Course Description:

Our seminar will center on the relationship between literature and science, by analysing three contemporary novels in which the main characters are scientists. In addition, we will also look at the wider social and cultural factors and implications, as well as at media other than the novel, which are important for this discussion.

    We will also have the opportunity to meet one of our three authors in person: 
    Simon Mawer (whose most recent novel was shortlisted for the Booker prize) will give a reading from his novel Mendel’s Dwarf 
    on Saturday, October 14, 2012, at the HWK in Delmenhorst. This is the Saturday before the beginning of the Orientierungswoche. 
    We still hope that many of you will be able to come. 
    Important notice: The reading is free, but places have to be reserved, so please book your place early, (details tba).

At first sight, Literature and Science may not seem to have very much in common. In fact, they are often thought of as opposites or rivals. Science stands for hard facts, rationality, exactness, reality. Literature is associated with fictions, with the imagination and the plurality of interpretations. And while scientific topics are often considered as being too difficult for public understanding, the general public nevertheless looks for scientific explanations and solutions when it comes to the major aspects of humanity: Will science find ways to prevent the effects of climate change? Will genetic engineering allow us to ‘produce’ humans with particular characteristics? Will the neurosciences be able to explain how our minds work? More than 50 years ago already, C.P. Snow described literature and science as “two cultures” whose representatives were hardly able to talk to each other. Frequently, too, constructions and stereotypes of gender come into play, science being coded as rational, difficult and male and literature as imaginative, beautiful and female. In our school curriculums, indeed, emphasis is placed both on the ‘arty’ and the scientific subjects. Still for many pupils, the decision whether they incline to scientific or the literary side is taken early on in their school careers. The traditional way of representing scientists in fiction is by way of stereotype and cliché. One of our dominant cultural clichés of the scientist, arguably, is that of the absentminded or obsessed researcher who spends all his time in the laboratory but forgets to live in the real world. This stereotype is also found in fiction, along with some more extreme versions, such as the mad scientist, ‘the scientist who becomes the victim of his own discovery’ (Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll), or the megalomaniac trying to achieve world domination with the help of some sinister invention. Contemporary novelists tend to give their fictional scientists some outrageous features too, but they often create them as complex characters and involve them in plots of love, ambition, and betrayal. Above all, however, these novels, and the fates of their protagonists, are highly comic and amusing.

  • Students should obtain and read these three novels (any edition):
  • Simon Mawer, Mendel’s Dwarf (1997);
  • David Lodge, Thinks… (2001);
  • Ian McEwan, Solar (2010).
Both, Mawer and McEwan’s novels are available at the CVO-bookshop.
  • Landmark publications on Literature and Science, as well as a master copy of David Lodge’s novel Thinks… can be consulted in a Handapparat at the library.
  • Our course work will be arranged in two main sections. We will begin with a practical part preparing students for the critical discussion of our materials. In this part, we will explore the state of the debate between literature and culture, look at the journals and publications, as well as recapitulate the relevant analytical tools from the Basismodul, in order to perform a structural and thematic analysis of our three novels. The second section of our course work will consist of student presentations and student-led critical discussion that will work with the results, insights and questions reached in the first part.
  • Our module will consist of three teaching units, from 9 – 12, in order to allow ample time for discussion. We envisage that we will start at 9.15 am, take a break of 15 minutes at around 10.30 am, and conclude our meetings at 11.45 am.
  • Course Requirements for credits as a Master Module "English Literatures":
1. Active participation as agreed in first seminar meeting.
2. An oral presentation of max. 20-30 minutes to introduce the seminar discussion in one of the sessions.
3. A term paper (generally building on one or several of the issues raised in your presentation or your other contributions; length ca. 15 pages [WiPäd ca. 10 pages]; deadline February 28, 2012).
4. Additionally, only for students of the MA English Studies, a research project.
  • In addition to attending the author reading by Simon Mawer, participants are encouraged to participate in the language practice course “Academic Discourse in Literary and Cultural Studies” offered by Natalie Roxburgh in MM 10 English Skills for Proficiency
  • cf. also Modulbeschreibung MM 9 Media and Markets


Introduction: Fictional and Cultural Stereotypes of the Scientist (cf. Haynes 1994; Pansegrau 2009)

  • Problematic Individual (cf. Lukács)
  • (with all apologies for gross oversimplification) The central topic of the novel is [in the words of Georg Lukács] “the life of the problematic individual”. (Lukács 78)
  • “The outward form of the novel is essentially biographical.” (Lukács 77)
  • [What is narrated is] “the life of the problematic individual”. (Lukács 78) –
  • “The inner form of the novel has been understood as the process of the problematic individual's journeying towards himself … (Lukács 80).
  • Two Cultures (cf. Cordle 1999; Herrnstein-Smith 2005a)


  • Two Cultures (cf. Snow; Cordle 1999; Herrnstein-Smith 2005a: chapter 5.)


  • Collini 1998: xii-xvii;
  • Snow 1959/1998: 1-15;
  • Herrnstein Smith 2005: 109-112;
  • Cordle 1999: 21, 30-33


  • Simon Mawer, Mendel's Dwarf (1997): narration, characterization, themes and plot structure


session cancelled

   [Articulate research interest (primary material) by 23.11.2012]

23.11.2012: early bird session


  • David Lodge, Thinks... (2001): narration, characterization, themes and plot structure
  • Ian McEwan, Solar (2010): narration, characterization, themes and plot structure


Guardian et al.: "Coverage of Science-in-Fiction and (Fictional) Scientists in Literary Journalism", reviews of the three novels


Nature et al.: "Coverage of (Literary) Fiction in Science Journals", reviews of the three novels


The Novels as Science Communication: Learning about Science by Reading Fiction?


Ksenia König, Chris Vagelpohl


   [Formulate research question by 21.12.2012]


Problematic Individuals? Analyzing the Scientist Characters in the Three Novels


Lisa Brack, Amanda Kaye Miller



Fictional Ethics and Practical Science: Moral Issues in the Three Novels


Maik-Christopher Monsees, Marco Prochnow



Constructing Implied Readers & Literary and Scientific Reviewers


Valentina Uribe



  • Fictional Scientists on TV: The Big Bang Theory


    [Hand in RPOs by 25.01.2013]


  • Narrating the Two Cultures


  • Course Evaluation


  • Final Discussion
  • Feedback on Course Evaluation
  • Presentation of Projects (Term Papers and Master Projects, if applicable)
    [Hand in seminar papers by 28 February]



  • Simon Mawer, Mendel's Dwarf (1st ed.: 3 July 1997, Doubleday)
  • David Lodge, Thinks... (1st ed.: March 2001, Secker & Warburg)
  • Ian McEwan, Solar (1st ed.: 18 March 2010, Random House)

Further Reading

  • (Science) Reviews of Simon Mawer, Mendel's Dwarf
    • Christina G. S. Palmer. "Mendel's Dwarf by Simon Mawer (Book Review)." Journal of Genetic Counseling 7. 3 (1998): 307-308.
    • Robert G. Resta. "Mendel's Dwarf by Simon Mawer (Book Review)." American Journal of Medical Genetics 78.2 (1998): 199.
    • Maura C. Flannery. "Fictional Biology." The American Biology Teacher 62.9 (Nov-Dec 2000): 670-673.
    • Susan Gaines. "Sex, love and science." Nature 413 (20 Sept 2001): 255.
    • (Charo, R. Alta. "The Ethics of Control." Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law and Ethics 2.1 (Fall 2001): 143.)
    • Robert G. Resta. "Genetic Library: GeneFictions." Journal of Genetic Counseling 12. 1 (February 2003): 77-82.
    • Alison Abbott. "Summer Books: Mendel's Dwarf." Nature 475 (7 Jul 2011): 35.




  • fiktionale Wissenschaftler als eigenartige Romanfiguren (vgl. Lucacs)
  • Karikaturen/Stereotypen (vgl. Weingart und Haynes)
  • Präsentationen:
  • Darstellung der Wissenschaftler
    • Problematisierung der subjektivierung des Wissenschaftlers im öffentlichen Diskurs
    • Two Cultures: novels + reviews
    • Rezensionsverhalten: Nature + Guardian (1 oder 2 Sitzungen); Fragen an Rezensionen; Fragen zu wiss. Themen und ihrer Behandlung