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Title: 'More than a figment of scientific fancy' : dreams and visions in Victorian psychology and fantastic literature, 1858-1900
Author: Kohlt, Franziska Elisabeth
ISNI:       0000 0004 8507 7399
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2019
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This thesis investigates the emergence of the Victorian fantastic dream vision and the discipline of psychology as sister phenomena. It explores the interconnections of the two fields through the work of author-scientists George MacDonald, Lewis Carroll, and Charles Kingsley and their literary portrayal of visions experienced in dream, illness and near death. Through substantial archival research, this thesis reconstructs these authors' scientific biographies, particularly MacDonald's study of science at Aberdeen, Carroll's autodidactic study of physio-psychology, documented by his letters, diaries and library, and Kingsley's knowledge of evolutionary psychology and sociology. There has been little historicist study of Victorian fantasy within its immediate scientific environment, and no extensive exploration of the fantastic in literature and science studies. Responding both to this absence, and to the claim of fantasy's escapism, especially from 'scientific possibility', this thesis establishes fantastic literature as a primary medium for the epistemological discussion of the nature of consciousness. Situated within the contested realm of the psyche it held a striking position as synthesising agent and problem solver, contributing to the development and establishing of psychological ideas, from the subconscious and to dream phases. The thesis falls into three sections, examining respectively dream-narratives, morbid visions and death-visions. The first section examines dreams, introspective visions concerned with the individual, and the early works of MacDonald and Carroll in context of their nascent interest in early Victorian psychological theory. Its constituent chapters explore how Phantastes enacts the psychologically and intellectually curative function of the dream imagination, and how Alice adapts and mocks the dream-narrative to expose poor, and define ideal psychological development, through psychiatric imagery and performance science. The second section scrutinises morbid visions, phenomenological visions concerned with intellectual discourse, and the little-understood fin-de-siècle works of Carroll and MacDonald through their readings of evolutionary psychology and degeneration theory. Its chapters examine Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno novels and their treatment of the possibility of free will and moral actions in the dynamic system of unconscious moral influences, and MacDonald's Lilith's attempt to create a universal philosophy of mind through aligning paradigms of evolutionary psychology, geology, divine creation and an optical adaptation of the fourth dimension in response to fin-de-siècle epistemological anxieties, spiritualism and transcendentalism. The third section explores death visions, with their external focus, concerned with society and the future of mankind, which, most akin to the utopian tradition, exercised the greatest formal influence on early science fiction narratives. It studies Kingsley's The Water-Babies and its radical scientific and sociological redefinitions of the soul and salvation in the context of the unnoted psychological thought of his natural history, theological and literary writings, and their commonalities with environmental socio-psychology. The conclusion summarises the reflective, discursive and projective ways in which the fantastic participated in the scientific psychological discourse, and how through its respective introspective, phenomenological or societal foci, it catered to different traditions beyond the bifurcation of fantasy and science fiction, the common origin of which can offer a fresh perspective upon their functions, meanings and potential beyond the literary.
Supervisor: Shuttleworth, Sally ; Ratcliffe, Sophie Sponsor: Senior Hulme Scholarship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History of Psychology ; Fantastic Literature ; Literature and science