Skip to main content


  • Article
  • Open Access

What is special about the gene? A literary perspective

Genomics, Society and Policy20084:1

  • Published:


In answering the question 'what is special about the gene' from a literary perspective, the article suggests that if literary appreciation is often seen as a mark of human exceptionalism, knowledge of the gene may undermine this claim. Tracing some of the historical and philosophical complexities that circulate around the word 'gene', the article argues that in one sense 'the gene' plays the lead role in the latest 'story' about heredity to preoccupy novelists, scientists, and the literary and cultural historians who have researched their shared interests and mutual borrowings. Reading Ian McEwan's recent novel Saturday (2005) in terms of the traditions of scientific and literary discourse that it draws upon and weaves together, the article argues that the literary craft may yet pose a distinctive challenge for the understanding of the place of genetics and literature in contemporary culture.


  • Literary Scholar
  • Germ Plasm
  • Critical Realism
  • ESRC Genomic Network
  • Modern Genetic