Human Evolution and Fantastic Victorian Fiction  book cover
1st Edition

Human Evolution and Fantastic Victorian Fiction

ISBN 9780367722814
Published June 25, 2021 by Routledge
182 Pages 13 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

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

Chapter One

Introduction: Strange Stories and the Descent of Mind


Chapter Two

Phylogeny Recapitulates Ontogeny: Fantastic Evolution and Fairy Science in The Water-Babies


Chapter Three

Developmental Nonsense in the Alice Tales


Chapter Four

Orality, Print, and Evolution in the Just So Stories


Chapter Five

Becoming Animal in The Island of Doctor Moreau


Chapter Six

The Machinate Literary Mammal: Samuel Butler’s Strange Stories


Chapter Seven

Exotic Geography, Natural Religion, and the Liberal Case against Eugenics in Flatland


Chapter Eight

Deep Time and the Socialist Utopia



Shallowing the Past

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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).