Humanity Could Not Maintain Utopia
In her article, The Seamy Side of Human Perfectibility: Satire on Habit in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race (2009) J. Judge argues that The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton expresses satirical evidence of the eminent failure of a Victorian utopia due to the habits of humanity. Judge states that the author does this through his “American Opportunist” character (p.137) using him as an expression of and for, the Victorian progressive thoughts about democracy and feminism.
The underworld of Vril-ya is morally absolute. The people do not express any flaws of humanity such as passion, anger or desire, but instead live in a perpetual state of peace and tranquil happiness. The idea of a world where everyone is content and there is no conflict or inequality is what Victorian writers described as utopia (p.138). In this world, the poor do not feel poor, nor do they suffer the opulence of the rich. Instead they are able to ask assistance of the rich without the hindrance of pride to prevent them. The races considered to be lower than the Vril-ya include those who practice a “koom-posh” government that has ideals consistent with those of democracy. The main character, a foreigner from the upper world, nick-named a “Tish” lives in the democracy of America and is seen as a member of a race inferior to the Vril-ya. Judge states that several of host Vril-yan Aph-Lin’s speeches on the subject of politics which criticize democracy can be transposed to those made by Bulwer-Lytton himself. Bulwer-Lytton denounced democracy and became a conservative in 1852.
The Tish’s final evaluation of the government of Vril-ya realizes the idea that “if you would take a thousand of the best and most philosophical human beings you could find in London, Paris, Berlin, New York or even Boston, and place them as citizens in this beautified community, my belief is, that in less than a year they would either die of ennui or attempt some revolution” and “be burnt into cinders at the request of the Tur” (Coming Race 157). Judge argues that this evaluation confirms Bulwer-Lytton’s suspicions of a “realized universal equality” (p. 141).
Judge takes a stand on The Coming Race as being highly anti-feminist in that it depicts women (Gy-ei) as the superior gender in both size and strength. While this seems to be pro-feminist, Judge points out several instances of the author portraying this view as satirical. One point is that when the Tish meets Zee, his first female of the sub terrestrial world, he appreciates her beauty but finds her terrifying for her size and strength. The fact that she intimidates him prevents him from finding her attractive, and when she indicates romantic preference for him, he attempts to evade her.
The argument can also be made that although the Gy-ei are superior, the Ana (men) still have control. The Gy-ei appear to depend on the attainment and commitment of their chosen lover. The An chosen is able to “drag her along” for as long as it suits him, and she will do favors for him and even give up her mechanical wings when they marry. She is also very concerned with his pride, allowing him to progress farther than her in a task of his desire just so that he does not feel emasculated, otherwise he could leave her. Judge argues that because of this control and the repulsion of the Tish, the author is satirizing the realization of feminist values.
Although, Judge makes excellent points about democracy and feminism being criticized in The Coming Race, the argument can be made for the opposite as well. The main character states, after spending several weeks with the Vril-ya that “The virtuous and peaceful life of the people which, while new to me, had seemed so holy a contrast to the contentions, the passions, the vices of the upper world, now began to oppress me with a sense of dullness and monotony.” (Coming Race 154). The character has become bored with the utopian world and longs to go back to his native land where the very characteristics discouraged by the Vril-ya, such as passion, anger and desire, are what makes his own world worth living in. In the absence of these there is only one state of being. The Vril-ya do not know elevated happiness because they do not know sadness or disappointment. There is no great art created anymore because there are no intense emotions to pour into it. The character would rather live in his “koom-posh”, male-dominated world than in the “utopia”.
Judge, J. (2009). The Seamy Side of Human Perfectibility: Satire on Habit in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race. Journal of Narrative Theory, (p. 137). Web. Retrieved from: Literature Resource Center
Anti-Feminism and The Coming Race
Gerardo Rodriguez Salas’s “E.G.E. Bulwer-Lytton’s Covert Anti-Feminism in The Coming Race” explores the idea that the novel The Coming Race is not only non-feminist, but that it satirizes the struggle of Victorian women for gender equality.
Salas claims that although the novel initially appears to be forward thinking on matters of gender equality, this impression is intentionally duplicitous, and the apparent feminist ideas that are present were most likely a ploy to draw in female readers (89). Though the Gy-ei of the subterranean world described certainly enjoy more freedoms in some aspects than their Victorian counterparts, the society depicted is really an inversion of patriarchy as opposed to one in which both sexes are equals. He also criticizes what he perceives to be Bulwer-Lytton’s basic misunderstandings between biologically and sociologically designated sex traits, particularly that women are inherently more loving than men (95). However, the idea in the novel that Salas finds most egregiously sexist is the female stereotypes that are still assigned to the Gy-ei despite their dominant roles in society. He cites examples of Zee’s vanity, when the narrator is told to call her ugly so she’ll no longer desire him, as well as the expectation that the Gy-ei hang up their wings when they finally marry (97).
Salas’s essay makes very compelling points, and I am inclined to agree with part of his argument, namely that The Coming Race is in many ways overtly anti-feminist. However, I don’t read Bulwer-Lytton’s approach as being satirical, mainly because of the number of inconsistencies that present themselves over the course of the novel. Instead, I find his anti-feminist leaning to be a result of ignorance, particularly since he seems to misunderstand biological versus societal traits, making me believe he is simply incapable of imagining a world of where physical strength and supposed biologically dictated intelligence are not a factors in determining social and political equality.
Gerardo Rodríguez Salas. (2005, E.G.E. bulwer-lytton’s covert anti-feminism in the coming Race1. Femspec, 6, 87-100,150. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/200163057?accountid=14679
Susan Stone-Blackburn: Consciousness Evolution and Early Telepathic Tales
Susan Stone-Blackburn’s article, is about how SF critics rationalize things such as faster than light technology, and powerful weapons, but give no credit to the theme of ESP. She feels that when talking about things, such as any sort of futuristic technological advancement, it is regarded as possible, even credible. But futuristic powers of mind are often written off, even though both, “violate currently accepted scientific theory” (Blackburn). She goes on to write that psychic powers are often regarded by SF critics as foolish, or trivial, or “even pernicious to the extent that it hampers our efforts to establish academic credibility for the study of SF”. Her main argument is that Psychic powers should be regarded as possible, and given the same respect and thought as say time travel or any other futuristic technology. She goes on to write about a few different works written around this time before touching on The Coming Race, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. She describes The Coming Race as, “The first novel of psience fiction” because it connects evolution and telepathy, but has usually been regarded as a story about futuristic technology. Her main example to support her argument that the novel is really about telepathy and mind control is the way the vril staff is used, using a quote from the book that describes the vril staff, that reads, “is proportioned to the amount of certain vril properties in the wearer, in affinity or rapport, with the purposes to be effected. Some were more potent to destroy, others to heal… much also depended on the calm steadiness of volition in the manipulator” (91). She then goes on to say that Critical interest in The Coming Race is focused more on vril as a futuristic technology capable of enormous destruction, rather than mention its telepathic and healing aspects. Although her section about The Coming Race isn’t very long, I think she did a really good job or persuading the reader of vril’s power of mind control. It was kind of shocking that so many SF critics could try to downplay this unarguable fact in the novel. It becomes very clear to see the mind controlling powers that vril has, especially when the narrator explicitly tells us how submissive he became after Tae touches and looks at him and has him sit and wait as bait for the monster in the body of water. The part about the staff, however, I overlooked at first. Although I knew that it must be used by one of the Vril-ya, I didn’t think of it in terms of evolutionary advancement to be able to use the power of mind control, making it seem very plausible in the eyes of the science fiction world. It no longer seems like some sort of magic one has to possess to be able to read minds, which SF critics would write off as foolish, but now joins the ranks of futuristic technology, as a real possibility for the future.