Roslynn D. Haynes, From Madman to Crime Fighter: The Scientist in Western Culture

Roslynn D. Haynes, From Madman to Crime Fighter: The Scientist in Western Culture (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017) 424 pp. 23 halftones. $34.95 Pb. ISBN: 9781421423043

From Madman to Crime Fighter is actually a version of a book that first appeared in 1994 under the title From Faust to Strangelove: Representations of the Scientist in Western Literature. The impetus for the original project was a ‘curious anomaly’ that the author, Roslynn Haynes (1940-), perceived in Western society: namely a significant gap between the importance of—and even dependence on—science and the rather negative views and images that said society appeared to hold of the practitioners of science (ix). The result was a formidable achievement in terms of sheer range: in a succession of sixteen chapters she compiled and analysed the depictions of different types of scientists in works of literature from the medieval era to modern times. In this update, Haynes has extended her purview to accommodate the growth in scholarship on science and popular culture, especially in the area of film, which has occurred in the twenty years since the publication of the first edition.

One of the main conclusions that Haynes had drawn from her research was that the images of scientists appearing in popular culture have fallen into recurring stereotypes, despite the different historical, political and social contexts in which the surveyed works were produced. To the original list of six categories—the ‘morally suspect’, the idealist, the ‘stupid virtuoso’, the heroic adventurer, unemotional automaton and the hapless creator—she has added a a seventh: the ‘mad bad and dangerous’ (5-6). Where and how these stereotypes have manifested in various works of literature and film forms the meat of the book. By Haynes’s own admission, the ‘mad, bad’ category is not entirely new but rather, represents the case of certain older types, the alchemist especially, taken to ‘new heights of megalomania’ (6). In a quick aside, I cannot resist noting this new label was drawn from a description of a literary figure who was decidedly neither fictitious nor scientific—the poet George Gordon Byron—although he undoubtedly possessed his own brand of mania.

I must confess that I am a bit ambivalent about the publisher’s choice to issue this book under a completely new title. Haynes, herself, justifies both the revision and the title on the grounds that its range extends well beyond the 1960s endpoint suggested by the reference to Stanley Kubrick’s film. But the simple addition of an and Beyond” after Strangelove’s name might have served to signify the new edition’s greater scope; certainly, it would have been less misleading. Indeed, I felt that she may have done the book a disservice by replacing the specific—and iconic—names in the originals with generic labels. Not that the book lacks examples of madmen and crime-fighters; it has both in abundance. But the implied argument, intended or not, that there was an evolution “from” one point “to” another—which worked the first time around by the simple fact of chronology—simply does not hold up in the latter. Haynes might have made her point more effectively through a series of more focused publications with reference to the original volume rather than burying the new material among the already copious examples offered earlier.

Both the critiques and compliments received by the original book still hold true for From Madman to Crime Fighter. In his 1997 essay, ‘Virtual Realities’, cultural historian George Rousseau (1941-), for instance, had noted that ‘Lurking in the hinterland of every page is Haynes' unarticulated sense of what “science” is’. Disappointingly, however, Haynes did not use this update to address that very valid criticism. On the plus side, she certainly seizedthe opportunity to fill a topical gap in her original book: the absence of women. Chapter seventeen (302-18) on the ‘scientist as woman’, complete with a whole new set of stereotypes not entirely parallel to the more general stereotypes, is certainly a very welcome addition to the book.  One of the standout features of both the original and the revision is what Rousseau called the “generous smorgasbord” of works offered. Anyone wishing to design a course on science or the scientist (however he or she may define these terms) in literature, cinema or popular culture, set either in a single era or over a span of time, could easily get away with using this new volume as a one-stop shopping catalogue for primary sources.

Neeraja Sankaran, Independent Scholar