Jocelyn Holland opens her book with two epigraphs: the first from Goethe, the second from Ritter (the passage with which she also concludes the book). Both epigraphs indicate the centrality of the idea of procreation for Goethe, Ritter, and German romanticism in general, and, as Holland puts it, emphasize that procreation was the mystery of the day (5). In focusing her study on the conception of procreation, contextualizing it within the science of the time, and showing how procreation serves as a discursive phenomenon with distinctive “patterns, tendencies, and rhetorical features” (2), Holland makes an important contribution to scholarship on romanticism, most especially to the nascent field of the history of romantic science.
Holland's book is divided into six chapters. The first chapter introduces her project and describes the intellectual (specifically scientific) context around 1800. Her discussion of the various competing theories at the time (epigenesis and preformation) is coupled with a consideration of the influence of these theories on Goethe, Novalis, and Ritter. In the same way that Blumenbach and Kielmeyer saw the force of reproduction as “central to all organic processes of the body,” so, she argues, “a more generalized understanding of procreation is central to an early Romantic interest in connecting different braches of scientific thought and considering them in relation to the poetic” (5). In this way, Holland sketches the program of the book: she plans to examine the role that the scientific notion of procreation played in the development of romantic notions about language and thought. Thus, chapter two, whose focus is Goethe, places special emphasis on the elegy, “The Metamorphosis of the Plants,” pointing out significant parallels between the scientific conception of procreation and the language and structure of the poem (48). Chapters three and four similarly illustrate the foundational role of “procreation” in the development of Novalis's understanding of language. Holland emphasizes Novalis's use of the idea of a “procreative tool [Werkzeug],” that cannot be reduced to either an organic or mechanistic worldview, and argues that for Novalis the novel and fairy tale function as “instruments [Werkzeuge] of the idea” (98–105). The final two chapters examine Ritter's use of the procreative metaphor in his autobiographical work (124ff.). In this way, Holland's study provides an incisive and detailed examination of the literary uses of procreation, and the ways in which procreation enabled a revision and expansion of discourse, thought, and observation in general.