Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation tracks the automaton’s appearance in Victorian literature from 1840 to 1900. It shows how authors across genre, form, and time conceptualized and responded to the Machine Age, using the automaton as a symbol of humanity’s changing relationship to machine technologies. Chapters 1 and 5 trace how Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) and E.E. Kellett’s “The New Frankenstein” (1900) similarly address concerns about gender equality in Victorian Britain, challenging the assumption that women could themselves be classified, and controlled, as talking/reproducing automata. Chapter 2 argues that Dickens’s conceptualization of the human machine in Our Mutual Friend (1865) allows his working-class characters a degree of class mobility outside of bourgeois object-oriented ontologies. The automaton informs Dickens’s commentary on Victorian class. Chapter 3 reads The Coming Race (1871) as a reactionary response to what Bulwer-Lytton perceived as the machine’s potential to liberate women from the domestic sphere. In this dystopic vision, women would necessarily come to control all aspects of society when freed of housework by the machine. Chapter 4 looks at Scots working-class poet Alexander Anderson’s 1878 collection Songs of the Rail. Anderson lauds the train engine as savoir and prophet of a coming technological age. I argue that he creates a literary aesthetics for that age by anthropomorphizing the steam engine, extending to it his own poetic voice.
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