‘It’s in t’blood’: Heredity in May Sinclair’s The Three Sisters

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


    Early twentieth-century literature shaped and was shaped by a wave of new theoretical and practical ways of understanding the human subject, which both extended and broke with the models of the previous century. This paper explores how the prolific British writer May Sinclair (1863–1946) navigated nineteenth-century scientific inheritances and the developments of the present through her novel The Three Sisters (1914), in which a young woman’s new local doctor and strict vicar father vie for dominance in their pronouncements of what ails her. Set in the early twentieth century, yet drawing on the mythology of the Brontë sisters, The Three Sisters interrogates the idea that we can know minds by reading bodies. In doing so, this paper demonstrates, it engages with a long scientific and literary tradition rooted in physiognomy, phrenology, and heredity, while also foregrounding the psychology that would deeply impact the twentieth century. The paper focuses in particular on the legacy of heredity in The Three Sisters, a concept exposed to intense interest in the nineteenth century at both national and more intimate levels, and which continued to linger in the public imagination. By attending to the character of the doctor, who vacillates between figure of desire and diagnostic authority, this paper draws out the centrality of blood in The Three Sisters as a unit of inheritance grounding the titular sisters in literal and metaphorical lineages of gendered illness, through which Sinclair’s scepticism towards inevitabilities of biology and history becomes clear.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished (VoR) - 2024
    EventInternational Conference of Three Societies on Literature and Science - University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom
    Duration: 10 Apr 202412 Apr 2024


    ConferenceInternational Conference of Three Societies on Literature and Science
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


    • May Sinclair
    • heredity
    • health
    • gender
    • medical humanities
    • literature and science


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