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Posthumanous Victorians: Francis Galton's Eugenics and Fin de Siècle Science Fictions Open Access


Other title
N. Katharine Hayles
Francis Galton
First Men in the Moon
A Thousand Years Hence
Science Fiction
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Durnford, Robin Diane
Supervisor and department
Wiesenthal, Christine (English and Film Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Quamen, Harvey (English and Film Studies)
Kent, Eddy (English and Film Studies)
Department of English and Film Studies
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Francis Galton is a Victorian cyborg. I stalk him in his move from nineteenth-century eugenicist to the computerized construct of my twenty-first-century blinking screen. Using a combination of storytelling and argument—in order to maintain a constant critical engagement with my own knowledge production—I bring the past together with the present in a historical cultural study that traces an unlikely pattern of inheritance from eugenics to the posthuman. Thus, Posthumanous Victorians contextualizes posthuman cultural theory while showing how surprisingly prescient the now ‘debunct’ science of eugenics actually was. Galton’s eugenics and the “posthuman,” the latter of which N. Katharine Hayles describes as a “view” privileging “informational pattern over material instantiation,” are connected in three ways: first, theories of both eugenics and the posthuman focus on cleansing the subject of the body by turning the body into information; second, both theories promote the externalization of private mental processes for the purposes of surveillance; and third, both are utopian attempts at achieving immortality through virtuality. The first half of my study investigates the proto-posthuman pattern of Galton’s career as a eugenic polymath. Chapter One shows how his early travel memoirs and scientific researches lay the foundation for the production of posthuman subjects. Chapter Two follows these subjects as they emerge from his eugenics theory—for which he eventually became famous (and infamous)—as a response to his cousin Charles Darwin’s evolutionism. The second half of my study applies this posthuman theory of Galton’s eugenics to literary works. Chapter Three shows how Galton’s posthuman eugenics gained momentum within and even helped shape fin-de-siècle science fiction, especially H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon and Nunsowe Green’s A Thousand Years Hence. Chapter Four shows how the emerging genre of science fiction was also having an important influence on Galton. I conclude it is time for us to accept the posthumans of the past so we can more easily recognize the eugenic impulses coded in our technoscientific future.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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