Science, Fiction, and the Monthly Magazines 1891-1905

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Many studies of the interrelation of literature and science are content to ignore Science Fiction (sf), a genre whose very name appears to locate it on the fault-line between the two. This thesis seeks to redress this deficiency by examining early examples of sf in the material contexts of their first publication, drawing out correspondences between imaginative writing and the other forms of fiction and non-fiction alongside which it appeared.
Following on from Gillian Beer’s notion of ‘two-way traffic’ as an ameliorative means of understanding the constructive (and constructed) relationships between science and fiction, this project considers popular magazines an enabling form whose commercial insistence on diversity of content maintained discursive possibilities between different kinds of writing. The illustrated monthlies which formed the vanguard of the New Journalism in Britain – the Strand Magazine, the Idler, Pearson’s Magazine, and Harmsworth’s Magazine, for instance – were a natural home for sf because of the heteroglossia they evinced: popular science, interviews, curiosity pieces, essays, editorials, and advertisements rubbed shoulders with many species of fiction. Editorial efforts to reconcile these disparate voices into a publication with a stable, saleable ‘personality’ often emphasised connections at a time when increasing professionalization was fragmenting much scientific and literary discourse.
This thesis re-establishes some of those connections by placing these writings back into conversation with each other, close reading magazines’ correspondences with four topical science-fictional themes – x-rays, interplanetary communication, polar exploration, and future-prediction – to emphasise harmonies which the construction of specialised and isolated narratives for disciplinary history has tended to occlude. This approach not only shows more fully the emergence of sf in its cultural and material context, but also challenges the present-day conception of absolute and essential dyadic division –between modes of writing, between academy and public, and, of course, between literature and science.
Date of Award2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMark Turner (Supervisor) & Josephine McDonagh (Supervisor)

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