Following the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, Victorian anthropology made two apparently contradictory claims: it distinguished "civilized man" from animals and "primitive" humans and it linked them though descent. Paradoxically, it was by placing human history in a deep past shaped by minute, incremental changes (rather than at the apex of Providential order) that evolutionary anthropology could assert a new form of human exceptionalism and define civilized humanity against both human and nonhuman savagery.
This book shows how fantastic Victorian and early Edwardian fictions—utopias, dystopias, nonsense literature, gothic horror, and children’s fables—untether human and nonhuman animal agency from this increasingly orthodox account of the deep past. As they imagine worlds that lift the evolutionary constraints on development and as they collapse evolution into lived time, these stories reveal (and even occupy) dynamic landscapes of cognitive descent that contest prevailing anthropological ideas about race, culture, and species difference.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Strange Stories and the Descent of Mind
Phylogeny Recapitulates Ontogeny: Fantastic Evolution and Fairy Science in The Water-Babies
Developmental Nonsense in the Alice Tales
Orality, Print, and Evolution in the Just So Stories
Becoming Animal in The Island of Doctor Moreau
The Machinate Literary Mammal: Samuel Butler’s Strange Stories
Exotic Geography, Natural Religion, and the Liberal Case against Eugenics in Flatland
Deep Time and the Socialist Utopia
Shallowing the Past
Anna Neill is Professor of English at the University of Kansas. She is the author of two other books: British Discovery Literature and the Rise of Global Commerce (2003) and Primitive Minds: Evolution and Spiritual Experience in the Victorian Novel (2013).