Discoveries in ‘The Lost World’ « Z W »

3. The Novel in Historical Context

3.2. Concrete Links

Evidence on the creation of The Lost World suggests that Conan Doyle wanted his narrative to establish the closest possible relationship to truth. (1) As was his way, he responded to the inspiration that his immediate surroundings and companions offered and investigated various details himself. With his ‘science fiction’- novel, he also integrated the experiences of actual ‘Edwardian’ travellers he was aquatinted with and made use of the latest related research results available.(2)
In this respect, his reception of research results deserve special attention.

The understanding of evolution displayed in the text is yet highly teleological,ending in the creation of modern man. He is connected to animal life through a “missing link“ (3), a theory under debate especially in the 19th century. Furthermore, it includes a questionable but resounding theory on the ratio between cranial capacity (respectively neurological mass) and intelligence (cf. LW 119). Geology is of special importance to the plot, depending on the special status of a plateau. The theory given to account for it allows for changes in the shape of the earth, but explains them on the basis of volcanic activity (cf. LW 29). From the present point of view, this would have to be reconceived to be consistent with certain details on the structure and evolution of Planet Earth, especially plate tectonics. However, the key issue is not in how far the theoretical concepts presented inthe novel comply to later (and presumably more refined) standards of knowledge – from a historical perspective they may indeed be judged as quite advanced – but that this fictional work embraces a scientific approach.

This positioning implies a strong believe in this then still potentially revolutionary approach and speaks of a close connection to the intellectual culture of the time. It will also correspond to the authors’ views. Besides, it reveals a specific and conscientious style of work which is not readily associated with literary entertainment.

While one link to the external state of things is through the author with his (intellectual) surroundings, the other is constituted by its wider historical and local context.

A striking characteristic of The Lost World is its optimistic and reassured outlook outlasting all adventures. Indeed, in Victorian (and pre-war Edwardian) Britain there was a sense of security within transformation to rely on (4).

The background of the novel is that of a mostly prospering, expanded world power, whose imperial aspirations had not yet been challenged. By the end of the 19th century, more than one quarter of the world’s population was under British rule. A firm believe in the strength of the own way of live comes therefore quite natural, and explains the urge to explore as well as the subduing attitude towards what was found in the unknown. The racial undertones of the work are to be interpreted within this context.

Granting that the significance of stereotypes and ‘short-hands’ of the foreign (5) is special here, as the plot is so close to the imaginary, and acknowledging even
the occasional instances of satirical distance, the narrative nevertheless has its share of what became urgent concerns in post-colonial discourse.

For better or worse, The Lost World carries the imprints of a special – and indeed vanished – historical moment.

This in turn justifies an investigation in its philosophical and historical foundations as in this paper.
For details, refer jointly to John Lavas (2001), paragraph 4ff.; R.D. Batory / A.S. Sarjant (1989),16ff.; D.Stashower
(2 2000), 274ff.
Confer the pun in lw 124, lw 163; for factual information confer this lemma in the Britannica
(Standard Edition, CD-ROM, 2002).
This is outlined in the article “United Kingdom: Great Britain 1815 –1914: Mid-Victorian society and culture“ in Encyclopaedia Britannica (Standard Edition, CD-ROM, 2002).
These analytical concepts are adapted from L. Kitzan (2001),especially 3f.
Author's Logo · Author: Paul - Christoph Trüper, 2005  - 2008.
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