Thesis ID: CBB556654764

Problems of Life and Mind in Late Victorian Speculative Fiction (2023)


“Problems of Life and Mind in Late Victorian Speculative Fiction” contributes to the thriving study of literature and science in the Victorian period by presenting three case studies in non-realist literature’s mediation of scientific debates at the end of the nineteenth century. In Arthur Machen’s early Weird tale “The Inmost Light” (1984), H. G. Wells’ science fiction novels The Time Machine (1895) and The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), and Vernon Lee’s ghost story “Oke of Okehurst” (1884), we find answers to interdisciplinary questions about agency and purpose in human action, biological classification, and our ability to perceive and understand other people. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the emerging sciences of neurology, psychology, and evolution made human bodies newly problematic. These bodies were increasingly understood to be made of atoms and meat, shaped by evolutionary biology and their own histories of sensory experience, and subject to laws of physics and physiology. The texts in this dissertation respond to these limits by imagining alternative realities. Rather than being reconcilable with known natural laws, the worlds of these speculative texts go beyond them: they prompt an imagining of other configurations of natural law, possibilities rather than facts, carrying readers beyond what could be supported or countenanced in scientific discourse. In this way, these texts prompt readers to imagine the shape of solutions for problems that feel irresolvable in consensus reality. In calling these texts “speculative fiction”—rather than the more usual term “Gothic fiction”—I hope to draw attention to their cognitive work. Against a critical tendency to read these genres as ‘anxious’ responses to contemporary science, I argue that they offer creative and critical thought about the structure of the world, the body, and the human mind.

Citation URI

This citation is part of the Isis database.

Similar Citations

Article Jackson, Kimberly; (2013)
Non-Evolutionary Degeneration in Arthur Machen's Supernatural Tales (/p/isis/citation/CBB001213082/) unapi

Book Kathleen M. Brown; (2023)
Undoing Slavery: Bodies, Race, and Rights in the Age of Abolition (/p/isis/citation/CBB065925879/) unapi

Chapter Marsden, Simon; (2007)
Dr. Moreau's Crimes: H. G. Wells and the Victorian Vivisection Controversy (/p/isis/citation/CBB001035836/) unapi

Book Will Tattersdill; (2016)
Science, Fiction, and the Fin-de-Siècle Periodical Press (/p/isis/citation/CBB727795187/) unapi

Book DeWitt, Anne; (2013)
Moral Authority, Men of Science, and the Victorian Novel (/p/isis/citation/CBB001202295/) unapi

Article Kreisel, Deanna K.; (2014)
The Discreet Charm of Abstraction: Hyperspace Worlds and Victorian Geometry (/p/isis/citation/CBB001550339/) unapi

Book McLean, Steven; (2009)
The Early Fiction of H. G. Wells: Fantasies of Science (/p/isis/citation/CBB000952806/) unapi

Chapter Jones, Steve; (2010)
The Evolution of Utopia (/p/isis/citation/CBB001023134/) unapi

Book Stiles, Anne; (2007)
Neurology and Literature, 1860--1920 (/p/isis/citation/CBB000774274/) unapi

Chapter Lynn Voskuil; (2017)
Victorian Orchids and the Forms of Ecological Society (/p/isis/citation/CBB040387941/) unapi

Chapter Carlo Paghetti; (2014)
I scientific romances di H.G. Wells: variazioni sul tema dello scienziato darwiniano (/p/isis/citation/CBB786747471/) unapi

Book Glendening, John; (2007)
The Evolutionary Imagination in Late-Victorian Novels: An Entangled Bank (/p/isis/citation/CBB000774615/) unapi

Thesis Pamboukian, Sylvia Amy; (2003)
Industrial Light and Magic: Popular Science, Technology, and the Occult in the Late Victorian Period (/p/isis/citation/CBB001562340/) unapi

Thesis Stiles, Anne Meredith; (2006)
Neurological Fictions: Brain Science and Literary History, 1865--1905 (/p/isis/citation/CBB001560560/) unapi

Thesis Farooq, Nihad M.; (2006)
Sensing Subjects: Ethnographic Modernity from Charles Darwin to Richard Wright (/p/isis/citation/CBB001561530/) unapi

Article Stiles, Anne; (2009)
Literature in Mind: H. G. Wells and the Evolution of the Mad Scientist (/p/isis/citation/CBB001030597/) unapi

Authors & Contributors
Stiles, Anne
Brenninkmeijer, Jonna
Brown, Kathleen M.
DeWitt, Anne
Farooq, Nihad M.
Glendening, John
Victorian Studies
History of the Human Sciences
Journal of the History of Biology
Journal of the History of Ideas
Victorian Literature and Culture
Cambridge University Press
Palgrave Macmillan
Indiana University
Duke University
University of California, Los Angeles
Science and literature
Science fiction
Wells, Herbert George
Darwin, Charles Robert
Stevenson, Robert Louis
Bernard, Claude
Boas, Franz
Collins, Wilkie
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
18th century
20th century
21st century
Great Britain
North America
United Kingdom

Be the first to comment!

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

Log in or register to comment