Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Literary and Cultural Studies
This dissertation argues that the alien as a literary figure gained meaning through writers’ use of evolutionary theory and the literary grotesque as they created alien monsters. The alien pointed to foreigners, people from other countries, religions, or other social groups – strange but not totally unfamiliar. Evolutionary theory alienated many people from each other, their surroundings, and even abstract constructs that shaped their world such as Nature and Time. This alienation anxiety found its way into the literature of monsters, which used the grotesque to represent and discuss this anxiety. The alien had been human, and people as grotesque evolutionary aliens appear as the tension between worldviews increased – but alien monsters, such as William Hope Hodgson’s squid people or H. G. Wells’ Martians separated the alien further and further from the familiar. It could contain literary creatures different than human beings, so strange as to be unrecognizable and impossible to deal with using human standards. The alien could still be foreign and also somewhat familiar, but it had been estranged from common experience. The extraterrestrial as an alien came from the widening estrangement between the familiar and the alien, “us” and “them” – them being ever-stranger creatures and literary images. This literary image, the evolutionarily grotesque, baffling alien startled readers but allowed for more and more strange beings to pool together in one image. The alien became something that could simultaneously represent the strange and the familiar at once. It answered to the same laws of biology, through its evolutionary heritage, but could emerge from under the sea or outer space. This development was integral to the history of the science fiction alien, which could be an allegorical image of anything from Communists to conformists, all through the same origin as an entity evolved differently from “us,” from humans. The grotesque alien that comes from evolutionary theory used in literary horror stories allowed for the creation of an empty “Other,” an entity, image, or life defined by being not human, not “us.” It is one of the purest expressions of “Othering,” the human tendency to create images of things we are not, in order to firm up our own identities.
dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.
Conley, Greg D., "Alien Evolutions: Darwinian Influence on the History and Transformation of the Anglo-American Science Fiction Alien, 1885 to 1936" (2013). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 778.