Grad Seminar Proposal, Nineteenth-Century Speculative Fiction

Featured Image: Illustration from Samuel Butler’s Erewhon by Ruth Cobb

This seminar explores the intersection between the development of science fiction in nineteenth-century British fiction and growing interest in natural and scientific phenomena during the century. We will focus specifically on three of the most important scientific theories of the period: James Hutton and Charles Lyell’s development of the theories of geological deep time, William and Caroline Herschel’s astronomical observations of the cosmos, and Charles Darwin’s identification of natural selection as the mechanism for evolution. In the process, we’ll explore apocalyptic and utopian visions, anxieties about civilizations living under the earth, ecological sublimities that made poets out of scientists and scientists out of poets, fears of degeneration and the growth of eugenics, and non-human visions both microscopic and galactic. Requirements include two 30-minute presentations, and a paper or multimodal project. Students will revise their projects biweekly, and be required to present a proposal and an annotated bibliography.

Possible Texts to be taken from a selection of the following:

  • Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment (1790)
  • Carl Linnaeus, Systema Naturae (1735)
  • William Wordsworth, The Prelude (1799-1850)
  • Dorothy Wordsworth, The Grasmere Journal (1800-1803).
  • James Hutton, Theory of the Earth (1785).
  • Mary Shelley, The Last Man (1826).
  • Erasmus Darwin, The Botanic Garden (1791) and The Temple of Nature (1803)
  • William Blake, The Book of Urizen (1794) and Milton: A Poem (1804)
  • William and Caroline Herschel, “Remarks on the New Comet,” (1787) “On the Direction and Velocity of the Motion of the Sun, and Solar System” (1805)
  • Mary Somerville, A Preliminary Dissertation, Molecular and Microscopic Science (1832)
  • Charles Darwin, On the Origin of the Species (1859), and The Descent of Man (1871)
  • Samuel Butler, Erewhon (1872)
  • Thomas Hardy, Two on a Tower (1882)
  • Richard Jeffries, After London, or Wild England (1885)
  • Arthur Machen, The Great God Pan (1890), “The Novel of the Black Seal” (1895)
  • Gabriel Tarde, Underground Man (1905)
  • Algernon Blackwood, “The Willows” (1907), “The Wendigo” (1910)


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