The Future Rocks: Viewing Geologic Time Through the Lens of Victorian Fantastic Literature

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2023-08
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Abstract

With the introduction of Charles Lyell's The Principles of Geology, written in 1835, a new concept is added to the Victorian understanding of time -- geologic, or Deep Time. Now Victorians had to place the past, present, and future within a larger context, factoring in the earth's geology. This new understanding of time fundamentally altered how Victorians saw themselves, especially how they saw themselves in regard to the larger historical story. In this dissertation, I argue that Lyell's geologic theories fundamentally altered how Victorians understood geologic time and their place in time. They now saw time as cyclical and viewed the British empire as the pinnacle of human culture. They believed that while their culture would degenerate in the future, future generations would rise up, even greater than before. This new generation would become the new standard built on the accomplishments of Britain's present success. Because Victorian authors of fantastic literature could use time creatively within their narratives, they were able to project their stories far into the future and deep into the past, allowing them to showcase these concepts in their narratives. Through the use of fantastic novels and short stories published in Britain between 1880-1910, I demonstrate how this new understanding of time permeates British culture and defines how Britons understood their purpose. By weaving together scholarship on time, geology, and science fiction and using these different perspectives in conversation with fantastic literature of the Victorian period, I broaden our scholastic understanding and offer a more comprehensive view of the Victorians' understanding of geologic time. Because fantastic texts are able to offer a more extensive view of time, due to their inherent world-building tendencies, by using these texts as my focus, I demonstrate a more interconnected view of time, one that undergirds how Victorians understood themselves and their place in history, and one that research into more canonical texts has largely ignored.

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Victorian, fantastic literature, geology, time, H. G. Wells, M. P. Shiel, William Delisle Hays, Grant Allen, E. M. Forster, H. Rider Haggard, Fred M. White's
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