The novel rests on a common Victorian image of science: research
proceeds towards an universal understanding of the world, while being
objective as a
means of immediate access to reality. This perception seemed natural at a time when the (empirical) sciences were on the rise and with the range of knowable
topics widened the general scope of apprehension.
As industrialisation and its intellectual basis mutually fertilised
each other, the development gathered speed and impact, so that “the
Victorian man in the street” saw “day by day science remaking the world
around him” (J.Bronowski 1949, 156).
The newly unfolding approach to questions had the air of enormous
reliability. Unlike with other branches of discourse, tangible evidence
could be seized here.
In addition, the explanations provided proved effective – and thus ostensibly true – in a verity of convenient, practical inventions (1). Consequently, objectivity, “the
firm grip upon actuality” (LW 77), recording only what existed in the material outside world, is vital to the concept. It has also turned out to be crucial to its
It may be taken for granted that Conan Doyle, not least through his medical training, was intimate with the structure of discourse of his day and took an active share in it. (2)
For better or worse, this innovation was perceived as a major
upheaval, and even in historical perspective it has to be placed among
the ultimately formative influences thoroughly transforming the
cultures involved in the process. It was generally accepted as a
vigorous part of Victorian intellectual culture (cf. T.W.Heyck 1982,
52) and unfolded its provocative powers only when it collided with
traditional sources of believe and orientation. In this instance, it
became subject of controversial debates with a tendency to pronounce it
either a demon or a redeemer (cf. J.Bronowski 1949, 167f.). There was
also a sense that the scientific exploration of nature would ultimately
reveal the true structure of the world or even the design underneath
the tangible appearances in the world
(cf. T.W.Heyck 1982, 55).
Meanwhile, the expectations that science would ultimately induce
progress and augment the state of affairs were huge. The idea that
scientific thought – as a guide of action – was, to quote a
contemporary, “not an accomplishment or condition of human progress but
human progress in itself”(3), shaped the
from which The
Lost World originated. The methodical, strictly coherent treatment of a
problem then declared to be characteristically scientific and its
obvious effectiveness seemed to justify such optimism.
Why should reality not communicate itself to the experimenter in an
intelligently devised series of experiments? Why should the knowledge
thus obtained not be used to change the course of the world? And why,
after all, should not those endowed with such skill and knowledge apply
it on practical life with the same consideration that guided their
academic work? — It is only from a historical distance (and within a
totally different frame of mind) that the drawbacks emerge as an
immanent part of the conception.
The fictional character of Professor Challenger with his unfaltering insistence in what he witnessed to be true fits the intellectual climate of the age perfectly (4) – as does an expedition that sets out to collect evidence and eventually expands the reach of civilisation on the wilderness.