The Fantastic Natural and the Evolutionary Imagination in Nineteenth-Century France


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


French and Italian


This dissertation argues that naturalism was not literature’s only response to evolutionary theory. Instead, it proposes that the fantastic natural, a subversive evolutionary imaginary, challenged cohesive representations of evolutionary nature across diverse literary genres by paradoxically using scientific discourse to evoke supernatural figures. The fantastic natural thereby both naturalizes the supernatural and supernaturalizes representations of the natural world. This project shows how the fantastic natural’s blurring of traditional distinctions between human and animal, male and female, and organism and environment reveals anxieties about modern humans’ decentered place in the natural world. This blurring also identifies powerful implications for the evolutionary understanding of gender, sexuality, and race. These concerns expose a new environmental consciousness in both canonical and experimental texts that destabilizes traditional generic distinctions among naturalist, decadent, fantastic, and scientific fiction.