Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

First Advisor

Sue Zemka

Second Advisor

Laura Winkiel

Third Advisor

Jason Gladstone

Abstract

This thesis utilizes concepts of the ecocritical theory of deep ecology to elucidate non-anthropocentricism and nature’s agency as depicted by three apocalyptic eco-narratives written in the long nineteenth century: Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826), Richard Jefferies’ After London (1885), and M. P. Shiel’s The Purple Cloud (1901). I offer readings of these texts as “Anthropocenic” science fiction novels, building upon Paul J. Crutzen’s work on the Anthropocene, our current geological epoch. Utilizing literary, historic, and scientific rationale, I make an argument for the reframing of literary periods according to geological transformations due to human interaction with the environment and collectively term apocalyptic eco-narratives written at the time of the Industrial Revolution through today as “Anthropocenic.” In my analysis, I demonstrate how Shelley’s, Jefferies’, and Shiel’s science fiction works exaggerate environmental concerns contemporary to their respective historical moments, and I offer deep ecological interpretations of their perceptions of industrialism and pollution, specifically in and around London. I also expound upon the way in which all three novels depict nature as an active, nonhuman character with agency and intention, either inducing an ecological apocalypse to protect itself or, as in Shiel’s novel, to punish humanity for ecological crimes. My “deepist” approach attempts non-anthropocentricism whenever possible and allows a progressive, nontraditional critique of these texts primarily from nature’s perspective—not humanity’s. Particularly, this thesis is interested in how nature retakes and re-greens spaces that are polluted by human activity or abused in the interest of human consumption. Demonstrating the way in which perceptions of nature’s agency evolved through the long nineteenth century and providing historical context for Great Britain’s ecological condition, I position that these three Anthropocenic texts ultimately blame London’s industrialism for ecological devastation in and around the city and conflate natural phenomena, like volcanoes, with industrialist pollution in fictional explorations of nature’s agency and potential ability to retaliate against humanity for irresponsible environmental practices. In the last chapter, I analyze the way in which Biblical allusion is used in The Purple Cloud to both sensationalize and rationalize punishment for anthropogenic climate change as an ecological sin according to the Book of Genesis.

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