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The missing link, Samuel Butler and the theory of evolution : design, physiology and psychology of the unconscious in Victorian Britain

Turbil, Cristiano (2013) The missing link, Samuel Butler and the theory of evolution : design, physiology and psychology of the unconscious in Victorian Britain. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86523) (KAR id:86523)


This thesis argues that Samuel Butler's evolutionary work represented one of the most eccentric and enlightening alternatives to 'natural

selection'. In his scientific research, the English writer used 'memory' as a justification of the process of heredity. This represented, at the turn of the twentieth-century, a shift from the mechanical approach to natural selection to an idea of evolution based on a psychophysiological process.

First, my work addresses the methodological difficulties that occur in placing Butler's work within the late Victorian debate. Neither the Victorians themselves, nor subsequent scholars, have known what to make of Butler, most usually attempting to place him in the category of literature whilst ignoring the substance of his scientific work. Looking at the reception of Butler's ideas in England and Europe, and critically discussing the problem of Butler's identity in the context of contemporary scholarship, I create a new picture of Butler as a Victorian amateur 'scientist'. Second, this research discusses Butler's popularisation of science, looking at his use of language, style and form in his fictional and non-fictional works. It also discusses Butler's work of translation and his popularisation of European scientific hypotheses within the British 'marketplace' of science.

Third and finally, this work explores Butler's hypothesis of unconscious memory in

relation to similar cases in Europe. Looking at the French and German psychophysiological

debate, it places Butler's evolutionary work in a pan-European context.

Overall, this thesis attempts to create a three-dimensional intellectual image of

Butler as writer and participant in science, and in doing so finds that Butler is a problem

case who tests the edges of scholarship in history and literature of nineteenth-century


Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86523
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 09 February 2021 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: history of science; Samuel Butler; evolutionary theory
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D203 Modern History, 1453-
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 30 Oct 2019 13:55 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2022 20:17 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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