From erewhon to nowhere: the impact of science on late-Victorian science fiction

Hagan, Kerry (2004) From erewhon to nowhere: the impact of science on late-Victorian science fiction. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

[thumbnail of Thesis document] PDF (Thesis document) - Submitted Version
Restricted to Repository staff only
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike.



The aims of this research are as follows:
• To investigate how late Victorian science fiction texts emerged in a period of dynamic epistemological change
• To critique how representations of science were appropriated and naturalised in late Victorian science fiction texts.
• To undertake a intertextual reading of late Victorian science fiction from the theoretical perspectives of contemporary science fiction studies
Although the term 'science fiction' was not coined until the 1920s, Robert Scholes argues that the modern genre began as a result of a scientific perspective on the world which 'gradually impressed itself on writers during the latter part of the nineteenth century' (Scholes, 1975, 15). Using science as a starting point, Scholes states that these writers were able to develop an 'idea of a future different from the present but logically connected to it by developments of present circumstances' (Scholes, 15). The writers considered in this thesis, Samuel Butler, Bulwer Lytton, Richard Jefferies, and
of course, HG Wells, began predicating an ostensibly realist mode of fiction on the new relationships and identities forged between humanity and Victorian scientific notions of progress. Science was consonant with progress, a belief which appeared to be the overriding fallacy of the Victorian age. Scientific knowledge and technological progress were also inextricably linked to notions of moral progress. Although champions of determinism and methodology, such as TH Huxley, were able to articulate these principles of scientific progress for popular consumption, they were partly seeking to professionalize the hitherto undistinguished (and under funded) role of the scientist. However, the newly emerging genre of science fiction was uniquely positioned to negotiate a growing ambivalence toward hitherto unquestioned notions of such progress.
This research will investigate the emergence of science fiction as a distinct literary genre during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, concentrating on how the genre negotiated discourses of popular science in a period of dynamic
epistemological change. I argue that science fiction emerged as a distinct genre during the last quarter of the nineteenth-century. My research investigates how it emerged, what form it took, and why it emerged when it did. I examine how four principal science fiction texts negotiated a period of transition which saw older identities, those forged through class-centred and religious narratives, superseded by new rational values of production and consumption. I argue that as science informed and affected all levels of Victorian society, then concepts of identity also had to change and adapt.
Science fiction literature helped to facilitate this adaptation by placing disparate and estranged scientific characters in unfamiliar (often future) environments in order to reexamine the author's contemporary existence. At best these characters often have to make some compromise between the world they think they know and a new estranged environment which holds a myriad of often unsettling possibilities. As a consequence the protagonist and reader reconfigure their identity to fit an often defamiliarised concept of the natural world wherein humanity's importance is often diminished.

Repository Staff Only: item control page