Ludwig Büchner’s popular-scientific treatise “Die Macht der Vererbung” and Theodor Storm’s novella “Der Herr Etatsrath” serendipitously appeared in consecutive issues of Westermann’s illustrierte deutsche Monatshefte between June and August 1881. For Büchner, the numerous talents and conditions associated with heredity are determined by multicausal factors, ranging from direct inheritance to education and environment. In Storm’s novella, readers witness the downfall of the family Sternow, both despite and because of inherited mathematical talent, predisposition to alcoholism, and a neglectful familial environment. Storm’s “Herr Etatsrath” not only enacts through fiction the multicausal model of heredity proposed by Büchner’s “Die Macht der Vererbung”, but also calls into question the precise nature of inheritance and fate by juxtaposing the negative effects of heredity, such as alcoholism, with positive ones, such as special cognitive abilities.
“Unvermeidliches Schicksal? Alcoholism, Mathematics, and Heredity
in Theodor Storm’s ‘Der Herr Etatsrath’ (1881),”
in: Scientia Poetica: Yearbook for the History of Literature, Humanities and Sciences,
eds. Andrea Albrecht, Lutz Danneberg, Wilhelm Schmidt-Biggemann, and Friedrich Vollhardt,
vol. 18 (2014): 81-102.