A Kinship of Dreams and Nightmares: Anxiety and Wish Fulfilment Fantasy in British Disaster Fiction, 1898-1939

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis presents an in-depth analysis of the major British disaster novels published before World War II. Focussing on Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1898), Shiel’s The Purple Cloud (1901), Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt (1913), Connington’s Nordenholt's Million (1923), Fowler Wright’s Deluge and Dawn (1927 and 1929) and Sherriff’s The Hopkins Manuscript (1939), it makes a significant contribution to the literary and contextual understanding of these narratives. Furthermore, it responds critically to the often imprecise employment of the term ‘disaster’ to describe related but distinct works of catastrophe, apocalyptic, postapocalyptic, entropic or prophetic fiction. It does so by presenting a precise terminology with which to discuss disaster narratives featuring a catastrophic event. Such texts, termed ‘transformative’ disaster narratives, range from ‘transfigurative’ examples, which frame the disaster as an opportunity for positive social change, to ‘deteriorative’ texts, in which the disaster has long-term negative consequences. By analysing pre-World War II British transformative disaster narratives, the thesis avoids the ambiguities of previous studies that have often favoured broad discussions over sustained close analyses. It argues throughout that these transformative disaster novels were unanimously ‘transfigurative’, as all present catastrophe as opportunity. Each narrative satisfies contemporary anxieties by providing a wish fulfilment fantasy concerned with the correction or improvement of its cultural context. Responding to concerns around Victorian complacency, social degeneration, or increasing technologisation, the novels enlist catastrophe as a means of effecting cultural and/or political change. Taken collectively, they are united by their wish fulfilment responses to an increasing disillusionment in the first half of the twentieth century. The Hopkins Manuscript distinguishes itself from its predecessors by presenting a transfigurative cataclysm followed by a deteriorative catastrophe. Accordingly, it initiates the post-World War II movement away from transfigurative disasters towards pessimistic deteriorative scenarios, thereby marking the end of a significant period in British disaster fiction.
Date of Award31 Jul 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University


  • British Disaster Fiction

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