Discoveries in ‘The Lost World’ « Z W »

3. The Novel in Historical Context

A profound understanding of the novel’s conceptions needs to be rooted in the historical background, considering general and intellectual, as well as local and personal aspects.

3.1. Aspects of Intellectual History

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
explanatory potential.

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 social environment 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.

Confer J.Bronowski (1949), 166 and T.W.Heyck (1982), 55ff., enlarging on the aspect of utility.
He vividly contributed to public debates and led campaigns (cf. D.Stashower, 2 2000, 113) ; his extraordinary engagement for spiritualism briefly appears in the novel, when Summerlee refuses to believe in telepathy (lw 107).
W.K. Clifford (1845-1879), an eminent philosopher of science, quoted in J.Borowski (1949), 165.
D. Newman (1997, cf.15ff.) emphasises the speed and dimensions of the process for contemporaries and the expectations connected to it.
Author's Logo · Author: Paul - Christoph Trüper, 2005  - 2008.
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