Environments of Literature

Winter 2014-2015


Benjamin Morgan

What do we refer to when when we talk about the environment? It is often said that there is no longer such thing as a natural environment: humans have so extensively shaped the planet that anything we might point to as untouched nature in fact bears the trace of human agency. In a world after nature, then, what new environments begin to emerge? Is “environment” itself an outdated, human-centered concept? In this course we examine how narrative fiction of the nineteenth century--a moment of tremendous technological and industrial expansion--constructed and portrayed various kinds of environments, human and nonhuman, natural and made. We will consider whether the nineteenth-century novel itself can be thought of as an immersive literary environment, one that models a complex ecology of relationships among human beings, cities, things, and nature. Our primary texts will include works by Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, John Ruskin, Thomas Hardy, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, H.G. Wells, and Joseph Conrad. We will also explore some of the ways in which literary scholars are now engaging with ecological issues, and explore conversations that are taking place at the intersection of environmental studies and the humanities..(B, G, H)