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Title page for ETD etd-11222016-082932

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Braham, Kira Renee
Author's Email Address kira.r.braham@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-11222016-082932
Title "Wells's Martians as Godwin's Future Humans: A Critique of Human Perfectibility in the Darwinian Era"
Degree Master of Arts
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Rachel Teukolsky, Ph.D. Committee Chair
Vera Kutzinski Committee Member
  • evolution
  • utopianism
  • socialism
  • science fiction
  • Lamarck
  • Darwin
  • T.R. Malthus
  • William Godwin
  • H.G. Wells
Date of Defense 2016-06-01
Availability unrestricted
In H.G. Wells’s 1897 novel The War of the Worlds, England is invaded by monstrous Martians who have giant brains and virtually no bodies. The narrator speculates that these bodiless beings are a highly-evolved species that was once much like humans but had become more physiologically efficient with the aid of technology, eliminating the troublesome need to eat, have sex, or sleep. The energy saved from this increasing bodily efficiency was channeled into the creation of an intellectually superior race. This thesis argues that Wells developed his Martians as a critique of neo-Lamarckian socialists who employed the evolutionary theory of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck to argue that human nature could biologically evolve to become less competitive. Wells, who was dedicated to an interpretation of Darwinism linked to the social theory of Thomas Malthus, argued that human nature was fundamentally shaped by the bodily struggle for survival and would remain “obstinately unchangeable.” This thesis argues that Wells returns to the debate between Malthus and William Godwin at the end of the eighteenth century, drawing a parallel between the potential for human perfectibility proposed by Godwin and the ethical evolution of the neo-Lamarckian socialists. In doing so, Wells undermines the scientific validity of the latter’s theories by associating them with pre-Darwinian utopian speculation.
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