Science Fiction 1850–1900

Part of the Palgrave Histories of Literature book series (Palgrave Histories of Literature)


Increasingly, as the nineteenth century progressed, advances in science were changing the way human beings thought about their position in the cosmos, with profound implications for the development of SF. The geologist Charles Lyell (1797–1875) challenged the Bible-inspired notion that the Earth was less than 6,000 years old in Principles of Geology (1830–33), introducing the idea of ‘deep time’ to a wide audience. A few years later, Charles Darwin (1809–1882), perhaps the most famous scientist between Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, published his world-changing On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection (1859), which confirmed the vertiginously long time-scale in its portrayal of the valueless proliferation and evolution of life. William Beddoes’ (1803–1849) posthumously published Deaths Jest Book, or the Fools Tragedy (1850) gives a sense of the way this new understanding of time in its aspect of ‘the Sublime’ inflected the far-future imagination. In place of the personalised ‘last man’ narratives of secular apocalypse from earlier in the century, Beddoes tolls a more impersonal and impressive knell:

Tis nearly passed, for I begin to hear Strange but sweet sounds, and the loud rocky dashing Of waves, where time into Eternity Falls over ruined worlds. (Beddoes, Deaths Jest Book, IV.iii.107–10)


Solar System Science Fiction American Writer Psychic Phenomenon Victorian Society 
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© Adam Roberts 2006

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