The tropical forest as symbol and setting in the fiction of Joseph Conrad and his British contemporaries

Benedick Felderhof

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis explains the prevalence and meaning of the tropical forest image in British fiction during the period 1885 to 1914, referring in particular to the writing of Conrad, but also that of Stevenson, Haggard, Hudson, Kipling, Doyle, and Wells. It attempts to combine the two strands of Conradian criticism based on the traditions of adventure romance and on evolutionary theory. Following up on the argument made by Corinne J. Saunders (The Forest of Medieval Romance, 1993) that literary woodlands have long been used to express ideas concerning undifferentiated matter, geneses, and the existence of a purposive force in nature, the fundamental contention of this thesis is that Darwin’s theory of natural selection and waning Christian beliefs prompted late-Victorian interest in such questions and a revival of erstwhile forest conventions. The historian of evolution Peter Bowler has identified an ‘eclipse of Darwinism’ lasting from the publication of On the Origin of Species (1859) to as late as the 1930s, during which much of the scientific and political establishments were anxious to combat the growth of atheistic materialism through replacement dogmas like neo-Lamarckism, social Darwinism, and imperialism. While many Victorian-Edwardian authors reflect this ‘reoccupation’ in conventional stories that depict fallen wastelands becoming redeemed idylls, Conrad’s jungle is more unorthodox, ambiguous, and far less encouraging.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Hampson, Robert, Supervisor
  • Fordham, Finn, Advisor
Award date1 Mar 2018
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018


  • forest
  • Conrad
  • nature
  • jungle
  • Kipling
  • empire
  • hyle
  • evolution
  • tropics

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