Thesis ID: CBB480780393

Automata in the Victorian Imagination: Fictional Responses to Industrialization, Technology, and Human Perfectibility (2020)


This dissertation tracks the automaton’s appearance in Victorian literature from 1840 to 1900. It shows how authors across genre, form, and time conceptualized and responded to the Machine Age, using the automaton as a symbol of humanity’s changing relationship to machine technologies. Chapters 1 and 5 trace how Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) and E.E. Kellett’s “The New Frankenstein” (1900) similarly address concerns about gender equality in Victorian Britain, challenging the assumption that women could themselves be classified, and controlled, as talking/reproducing automata. Chapter 2 argues that Dickens’s conceptualization of the human machine in Our Mutual Friend (1865) allows his working-class characters a degree of class mobility outside of bourgeois object-oriented ontologies. The automaton informs Dickens’s commentary on Victorian class. Chapter 3 reads The Coming Race (1871) as a reactionary response to what Bulwer-Lytton perceived as the machine’s potential to liberate women from the domestic sphere. In this dystopic vision, women would necessarily come to control all aspects of society when freed of housework by the machine. Chapter 4 looks at Scots working-class poet Alexander Anderson’s 1878 collection Songs of the Rail. Anderson lauds the train engine as savoir and prophet of a coming technological age. I argue that he creates a literary aesthetics for that age by anthropomorphizing the steam engine, extending to it his own poetic voice.

Citation URI

This citation is part of the Isis database.

Similar Citations

Article Mahriana Rofheart; (April 2020)
Fictional Technologies of Collaboration (/p/isis/citation/CBB092765505/) unapi

Article Tresch, John; (2011)
The Machine Awakens: The Science and Politics of the Fantastic Automaton (/p/isis/citation/CBB001231753/) unapi

Book LaGrandeur, Kevin; (2013)
Androids and Intelligent Networks in Early Modern Literature and Culture: Artificial Slaves (/p/isis/citation/CBB001201685/) unapi

Book Catherine Keyser; (2018)
Artificial Color: Modern Food and Racial Fictions (/p/isis/citation/CBB820731169/) unapi

Chapter Ward, Megan; (2020)
Victorian Fictions of Computational Creativity (/p/isis/citation/CBB006195578/) unapi

Article MacDougall, Robert; (2006)
The Wire Devils: Pulp Thrillers, the Telephone, and Action at a Distance in the Wiring of a Nation (/p/isis/citation/CBB001030918/) unapi

Book Bedwell, Harry; Porterfield, James D.; (2006)
The Boomer: A Story of the Rails (/p/isis/citation/CBB787809657/) unapi

Chapter Steven D. Spalding; (2021)
Chapter 6. Crossing Borders On and Beyond the Train in Joan of Arc of Mongolia (1989) (/p/isis/citation/CBB578011405/) unapi

Chapter Fernando Gabriel Pagnoni Berns; (2021-10-01)
Chapter 4. Dangerous Borders: Modernization and the Gothic Mode in Horror Express (1972) and Howl (2015) (/p/isis/citation/CBB029856216/) unapi

Book J. Jesse Ramirez; (2020)
Against Automation Mythologies: Business Science Fiction and the Ruse of the Robots (/p/isis/citation/CBB160756101/) unapi

Chapter Park, Julie; (2020)
Making the Automaton Speak: Hearing Artificial Voices in the Eighteenth Century (/p/isis/citation/CBB576597809/) unapi

Chapter Crosthwaite, Paul; (2011)
Clockwork Automata, Artificial Intelligence and Why the Body of the Author Matters (/p/isis/citation/CBB001201379/) unapi

Thesis Nocks, Lisa; (2005)
To Serve and Obey: A History of the Android, 1850--Present (/p/isis/citation/CBB001561611/) unapi

Book Maria Gioia Tavoni; (2021)
Storie di libri e tecnologie. Dall’avvento della stampa al digitale (/p/isis/citation/CBB578661884/) unapi

Book Francis, R. D.; (2009)
The Technological Imperative in Canada: An Intellectual History (/p/isis/citation/CBB001200657/) unapi

Article Rubery, Matthew; (2013)
Canned Literature: The Book after Edison (/p/isis/citation/CBB001201826/) unapi

Book Fred Botting; Catherine Spooner; (2015)
Monstrous Media/Spectral Subjects: Imaging Gothic from the Nineteenth Century to the Present (/p/isis/citation/CBB966967924/) unapi

Authors & Contributors
Botting, Fred
Crosthwaite, Paul
Francis, R. D.
Gioia Tavoni, Maria
Hessler, Martina
Kang, Minsoo
American Quarterly
Blätter für Technikgeschichte
Book History
French Historical Studies
Technology and Culture
Berghahn Books
Oxford University Press
Carocci Editore
Manchester University Press
UBC Press
Technology and literature
Technology and culture
Automata; robotics; cyborgs
Artificial intelligence
Barthes, Roland
Innis, Harold Adams
Leacock, Stephen
McLuhan, Marshall
Trollope, Anthony
Edison, Thomas Alva
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
21st century
18th century
17th century
20th century, early
United States

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment