Becoming (Post)Human: How H.G. Wells, Upton Sinclair, and D.H. Lawrence Tried to Alter the Course of Human Evolution
This dissertation examines the dual impacts of evolutionary theory and the industrial revolution on late 19th and early 20th century transatlantic fiction, particularly in articulating the concepts of perfectibility and degeneration. Darwinian evolutionary theory made real the possibility failing to successfully evolve and adapt as a species could cause humans to go extinct or, maybe worse, devolve into monstrosities. The industrial revolution, on the other hand, enabled humans to conquer nature to a degree that suggested a power to become engineers of our own future world and selves. At the same time, this ability to understand and alter ourselves dissolved the distinction between humans and machines, and the realities of industrial technology under a capitalist system revealed that humans could also be reduced to machine-minding cogs. The two (sometimes conflated) categories of animal and machine, which we have long used to distinguish ourselves as humans, were breaking down and threatening to undo our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. The authors whose works I discuss in this dissertation recognized that human could no longer be considered a stable category or entity, and they worked from within the received conceptual language of animals and machines to challenge our ideas about what being human means. They believed that by using imagery and narrative to re- articulate human identity and purpose, they could change behavior, morality, politics, economics, culture, and the future evolution of the species. In this dissertation, I examine the different approaches that H.G. Wells, Upton Sinclair, and D.H. Lawrence used to engage this dangerous and exciting problem of reimagining human meaning and human potential through narrative. By situating these authors in conversation with each other, I am able to highlight different facets, concerns, and shortcomings of each approach. This study also reveals that these authors were already engaging in a dynamic discussion currently gaining prominence and urgency in our own time as we explore through science, technology, philosophy, and narrative what we are and what we want to be.