Ecocrisis and slow violence: Anthropocene readings of late-Victorian disaster narratives

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Taking as a corpus William Delisle Hay’s The Doom of the Great City (1880), Richard Jefferies’s “The Great Snow,” “Snowed Up” (both 1876), and After London (1885), Robert Barr’s “The Doom of London” (1892), and Grant Allen’s “The Thames Valley Catastrophe” (1897), this chapter examines one manifestation of an unprecedented outburst of literary violence against London in the last decades of the nineteenth century. In late-Victorian literature, imaginative assaults on the capital variously involved spies, terrorists, plotters, mobs, military and interplanetary invaders, supernatural beings, and Celtic and colonial others, but this chapter focuses on six texts that are distinctive in their use of environmental agents in attempts to destroy London and in the extraordinary violence that they unleash. These works can be regarded as grandparents of a now ubiquitous post-apocalyptic tradition in which unprecedented environmental disorder and civilizational collapse confronts ordinary people with extraordinary situations, challenges, and moral questions, but this chapter focuses not on the texts’ genre classifications and genealogies, but on what happens when we analyze them as Victorian environmental nightmares. In this context, this chapter suggests that these texts are characterized by an urge not simply to critique expansionist late-Victorian modernity but to imaginatively halt it, not simply to bemoan British civilization but to humble or annihilate it. Rather than seeking to find pioneering “green” texts, the chapter seeks to position them in relation to recent debates in ecocriticism and Anthropocene studies. These Victorian environmental nightmares, although rooted in their own times, concerns, and preoccupations, represent a distinctive upwelling of social and environmental anxieties that renders them part of a historical continuum that connects them to the preoccupations and concerns of our Anthropocene present.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationVictorian Environmental Nightmares
EditorsLaurence W. Mazzeno, Ronald D. Morrison
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Ltd.
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-14042-7
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-14041-0
Publication statusPublished - 7 May 2019


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