Prehistoric heroes in Victorian fiction, the antiquity of man and the evolutionary human

  • Martin Irwin

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis examines the cultural and literary impact of the establishment of the 'antiquity of man', or the discovery of human remains in geological association with those of extinct mammals. This mid-nineteenth-century scientific development greatly extended the length of human (pre)history and, when read in conjunction with the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin, allowed for the possibility of the prior existence of other species of human.The thesis pursues contemporary discussions of human antiquity in the popular and periodical press before moving on to an examination of early 'prehistoric fiction', much of which was published in magazines and periodicals. Rather than dealing with the implications of human antiquity and evolution on their own terms, early prehistoric fiction, I suggest, amounted to a Victorian colonisation of human evolutionary history.The remainder of the thesis is given over to an analysis of the implications and effects of what I have termed 'evolutionary colonialism' through the work of George Meredith, Arthur Machen and Joseph Conrad - three writers with very different places in relation to the canon. Meredith's work often seems to warn of the dangers of evolutionary colonialism, while in a handful of stories dealing with human antiquity Arthur Machen offers an alternative reading of human evolutionary history. Finally, in Conrad's Heart of Darkness it is possible to perceive the consequences and underlying logic of the colonial interpretation of the evolutionary human.
Date of Award14 Sep 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SupervisorErica Fudge (Supervisor) & Richard Niland (Supervisor)

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