Roger Whitson deposited ENGL 521: Nineteenth-Century Speculative Fiction in the group LLC English Romantic on MLA Commons 5 years, 4 months ago
Darko Suvin claims that science fiction is fundamentally concerned with “cognitive estrangement,” or the presence of some element in the story that transforms how its readers understand their world. In fact, much of the developments in science, economics, and politics in the nineteenth century were also concerned with the new worlds revealed by an increasingly industrialized society. Charles Darwin shocked the world by postulating that natural selection determined the habits of human beings, not any divine plan. Voyages to other parts of the planet were revealing new frontiers and new spaces for capitalism and colonialism to exploit. Machines and unskilled labor were replacing artisans with mechanized and standardized commodities. And the hopes and fears inspired by these new worlds reappeared as dreams and nightmares in speculative fiction: Darwin’s theories became the strange human-like animal hybrids of H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, while imperialism inspired the “lost race” novels of H. Rider Haggard and made possible the utopian dreams of William Morris and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
This course will show how science fiction articulated the hopes and fears Victorians associated with the future. Such anxieties are a symptom of our inability to imagine the future (or the past) in its alterity. Against liberal promises of perpetual progress in which the notion of eventual inclusion tells the oppressed to stave off revolution and reassure the ruling class, science fiction enacts dramas surrounding the true danger and possibility of a future that is entirely unpredictable. In addition to the authors mentioned above, this course will show how women and authors of color used science fiction to challenge the oppressions of their day and imagine futures that asserted their freedom and power.