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W. S. Gilbert’s Pygmalion & Galatea
An introduction to the art, ethics and science of cloning
Edited by Fred M. Sander, M.D.
New York: International Psychoanalytic Books, 2010, 189pp.

sanderbook6press.jpgThis rather bizarre book uses W. S. Gilbert’s Pygmalion and Galatea as a “hook” to explore the ethics and science of cloning. As the editor, Fred Sander, puts it:

Why did I pick this forgotten though once very popular play? Gilbert’s drama not only anticipates psychoanalysis in the 20th century, but also, written a hundred years before the discovery of stem cells, it metaphorically resonates with the 21st century of genomic medicine. In Gilbert’s play, written eighteen centuries after Ovid, Pygmalion creates many copies (i.e., clones) of his wife, Cynisca. One of these copies, Galatea, spontaneously comes to life. . . .

In the play, the character of Galatea—an innocent born into an adult woman’s body—falls in love with her creator, Pygmalion. A moral crisis ensues when Pygmalion finds himself in the untenable position of having two almost identical wives. Moreover, he faces blindness if he breaks his vow of fidelity to Cynisca. Reading Gilbert’s comedy today points to new biological, psychological, social, and ethical issues raised by the recent sequencing of the genome and the explosion of stem cell research.

Fifty-eight of the book’s 189 pages are taken up with the text of the play itself, “with minimal revisions and a supplemental ending” by Sander.

There are seven essays by different writers, but most of them are drawn from pre-existing sources and make no mention of the Gilbert play at all. A new essay by Carolyn Williams discusses gender roles in Victorian England, but does not touch upon the topic of cloning at all. Hence, it is really up to Sander to make the tenuous connection that links these disparate subjects, and he isn’t quite up to the task. Had all seven of his contributors, or at least a few more of them, subscribed to the book’s theme, perhaps the book would seem more coherent.

Most of the essays make enjoyable reading on their own terms, even if the mooted connection between art and science never really comes together. For Gilbert fans, I cannot make the case that the book is worth spending $25 on. For more information, or to order a copy, visit the book’s website, http://www.createdinourownimages.com/.

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