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    'Goblinlike, fantastic: little people and deep time at the fin de siècle

    Fergus, Emily (2019) 'Goblinlike, fantastic: little people and deep time at the fin de siècle. Masters thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    Abstract

    This thesis offers a new reading of how little people were presented in both fiction and non-fiction in the latter half of the nineteenth century. After the ‘discovery’ of African pygmies in the 1860s, little people became a powerful way of imaginatively connecting to an inconceivably distant past, and the place of humans within it. Little people in fin de siècle narratives have been commonly interpreted as atavistic, stunted warnings of biological reversion. I suggest that there are other readings available: by deploying two nineteenth-century anthropological theories – E. B. Tylor’s doctrine of ‘survivals’, and euhemerism, a model proposing that the mythology surrounding fairies was based on the existence of real ‘little people’ – they can also be read as positive symbols of the tenacity of the human spirit, and as offering access to a sacred, spiritual, or magic, world. Although this is primarily a literary thesis, focusing on particular ‘weird’ texts by Arthur Machen, Grant Allen, John Buchan and Walter De La Mare among others, the subject matter requires considerable interdisciplinarity, particularly in the histories of anthropology and folklore studies. The new sciences of ethnology and anthropology had enabled the study of prehistory but, as the chronology and timescale of human existence became apparent, it also became increasingly opaque and incomprehensible. Dwarfs, in both reality and fantasy, held a series of peculiarly potent positions in the public consciousness throughout the nineteenth century (as ‘natural wonders’ or horrors, as living fairies or as illustrative of racial degeneration) but towards the fin de siècle they began to be seen more commonly as representative of an early, ‘savage’ stage of human development. This thesis argues that attention to these points allows more nuanced and diverse interpretations of the way evolutionary theories influenced late-Victorian Gothic and weird fiction, contributing to recent work that has sought to question and amend the dominant focus on degeneration tropes.

    Metadata

    Item Type: Thesis
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 05 Nov 2019 16:36
    Last Modified: 13 Jun 2021 11:22
    URI: https://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/40443

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