The Coming Race:Hell? or Paradise Foretasted?
B. G. Knepper
Edward Bulwer-Lytton published his utopian novel, The Coming Race, in 1871, toward the end of a distinguished career in literature and government. While his reputation in both areas has diminished somewhat, the reputation of The Coming Race continues to grow, and its place as a classic of utopian literature seems assured. That place depends, at least in part, upon the skill with which Bulwer-Lytton kept to the modern rule for science fiction, that the advanced technology of an "other" world must be a logical extension of the implications of current scientific knowledge. His use of evolution as the basic fact of human development, of personal fields of force as the mode of mankind's next evolutionary advance, and of electricity as not only the universal structural component of matter, but also as the bridge between body and intellect, fulfills the "rule" and places his work firmly and early in the stream of modern utopian novels.
People living in the 1980s, conditioned for more than a century to think of Victorian times as dull and dowdy, find it difficult to recapture the intense excitement of living during the nineteenth century when Western culture was literally reshaping its world. Yet so it was, in politics, science, and technology (to say nothing, just now, of theology and philosophy), and, in The Coming Race, Bulwer-Lytton struggled to resolve the problems, the hopes, and the reservations which occupied the minds of the thinkers and theorists of his time. His task was complicated by the need to present his thinking, as Charles Dickens and George Eliot also did, through the form of the popular novel.
In politics, then, England, as well as much of the rest of Europe, was making a stormy transition from the rule of the rich or the well-bred few to that of the common man, from oligarchy to democracy and thence, in the twentieth century, to socialism. England escaped the worst of the bloodshed which too often marked the