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Deadly light: Machen, Lovecraft, and evolutionary theory

George, Jessica 2014. Deadly light: Machen, Lovecraft, and evolutionary theory. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This thesis explores the relationship between evolutionary theory and the weird tale in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Through readings of works by two of the writers most closely associated with the form, Arthur Machen (1863-1947) and H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), it argues that the weird tale engages consciously, even obsessively, with evolutionary theory and with its implications for the nature and status of the "human". The introduction first explores the designation "weird tale", arguing that it is perhaps less useful as a genre classification than as a moment in the reception of an idea, one in which the possible necessity of recalibrating our concept of the real is raised. In the aftermath of evolutionary theory, such a moment gave rise to anxieties around the nature and future of the "human" that took their life from its distant past. It goes on to discuss some of the studies which have considered these anxieties in relation to the Victorian novel and the late-nineteenth-century Gothic, and to argue that a similar full-length study of the weird work of Machen and Lovecraft is overdue. The first chapter considers the figure of the pre-human survival in Machen's tale of lost races and pre-Christian religions, arguing that the figure of the fairy as pre-Celtic survival served as a focal point both for the anxieties surrounding humanity's animal origins and for an unacknowledged attraction to the primitive Other. The second chapter discusses the pervasiveness of degeneration theory at the fin de siècle, and the ways in which works by both Machen and Lovecraft make use of it to depict the backsliding of both the individual human subject and of wider society, raising the suggestion that the degenerate is always already present within the contemporary human. In the third chapter, portrayals by both authors of hybridity come under consideration. The chapter places these tales in their historical context, with reference to the cultural anxieties surrounding the decline of empire, the rise of anti-immigration sentiment in the United States, and the emergence of the eugenics movement, and argues that these fears become tied to notions about the fitness or otherwise to survive of a "human" associated with Anglo-Saxon whiteness. The fourth and final chapter discusses Lovecraft's portrayals of highly-advanced extraterrestrial civilisations, arguing that these stories partake of a Utopian impulse that nonetheless expresses itself via contemporary racist discourses, and that they both maintain the notion of a horrific primitive Other within the human and attempt to open up the possibility of a transhuman or posthuman future. The thesis concludes by considering these works in relation to the cyborg theory of Donna Haraway, suggesting that their portrayal of the necessity of inhabiting flux offers a new and less straightforwardly horrific way of thinking about human identity.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 23 Sep 2022 08:50

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