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Chapter 2 - Revenge of the Unborn

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 June 2021

Aaron Matz
Affiliation:
Scripps College, California
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Summary

Chapter 2, “Revenge of the Unborn,” notes the way that creating characters in fiction can resemble giving birth: Dickens, Nabokov, and Flann O’Brien have all played with this idea. In Tristram Shandy the hero even talks about his prenatal existence. But no writer has imagined the dubious zone of preexistence more brilliantly than Samuel Butler. In Erewhon he invented a society where parents appear so guilty about having children that they place all blame on the “unborn.” Infants must sign a document taking responsibility for their existence. This chapter traces the many moral implications of this comic idea. It is part of a long satiric tradition that sees reproduction as one of the essential human follies, but it also looks ahead to contemporary philosophers (Parfit, Benatar, and others) who want to ask how we can impose life on beings (our children) who have not consented to it. Butler’s subsequent book The Way of All Flesh picks up where Erewhon leaves off, depicting in yet starker detail the morally questionable scenario of giving life to creatures who may one day judge their parents for it.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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  • Revenge of the Unborn
  • Aaron Matz, Scripps College, California
  • Book: The Novel and the Problem of New Life
  • Online publication: 24 June 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108989718.003
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  • Revenge of the Unborn
  • Aaron Matz, Scripps College, California
  • Book: The Novel and the Problem of New Life
  • Online publication: 24 June 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108989718.003
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Revenge of the Unborn
  • Aaron Matz, Scripps College, California
  • Book: The Novel and the Problem of New Life
  • Online publication: 24 June 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108989718.003
Available formats
×