This essay contends that the work of the nineteenth-century British writer and naturalist Richard Jefferies embodies both a recognition and a radical denial of the Anthropocene, expressing a nascent form of the ambivalence that stalks our contemporary recognitions and misrecognitions of the human in/and nature. Drawing upon a range of Jefferies’s writings—both his essays and his autobiography in addition to his fiction—it argues that there exists in Jefferies’s work a recurring vein of anti-ecological thought, particularly evidenced in the way it frequently depicts strict boundary lines, whether between agricultural and urban spaces, between civilization and wild nature, or between the human and the natural world. Taking issue with recent ecocritical accounts of Jefferies’s post-apocalyptic novel After London (1885), this essay rereads Jefferies’s novel in light of the wider range of his writings to argue that it is most usefully read not as a proto-ecological rebuke to the unsustainability of human agro-industrial practices, nor as a prophetic evocation of a world re-greened by the collapse of those practices, but rather as the irresolute culmination of a career spent both testifying to the essential inviolability of nature and bearing witness to the mounting evidence of anthropogenic rupture.
In multiple entries in his notebooks, Robert Louis Stevenson pauses to consider the failure of scientific language to communicate the abstractions that undergird its theoretical models of natural processes. In failing to make the operations of the physical world speak, materialist discourse suffers from a terminological disorder. His diagnosis is sweeping and acerbic: “Scientific language like most other language is extremely unsatisfactory” (“Note Book” 300). In what follows I will argue that over the course of several key essays of the 1880s and his most famous work of fiction, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), Stevenson aims to redress the fundamental abstraction of the most prominent materialist doctrine of his day, Darwinian evolutionary theory, rendering it viscerally communicable in the figure of Hyde, who represents both the individual organism subject to the pervasive modifying forces of speciation and the embodiment, in a single yet fluctuating corporeal entity, of those very forces. Further to this, I will propose that in imagining Hyde’s genesis at the laboratory table (the result of Jekyll’s incursions into nature) and in placing Hyde in symbiosis with the London fog (the admixture of natural forces and human intervention in the form of the burning of fossil fuels), Strange Case can be added to the body of literature that hails the dawning of the Anthropocene, famously defined by Paul Crutzen as the “human-dominated geological epoch supplementing the Holocene” in which the human has become “a major environmental force” (23). The figure of Hyde thus manifests evolutionary forces in all their teeming presence while also harkening the new forms of subjectivity emerging from our catastrophic agency in the present era – one in which the human has become, in the words of Dipesh Chakrabarty, a “geophysical force” (13)..
The nineteenth century was an age preoccupied by considerations of the earth’s antiquity. Geologists like Charles Lyell and James Hutton were foremost in mapping the earth’s old age, and their writings did much to stimulate an unprecedented (and sometimes deeply disturbing) apprehension of epochs thoroughly removed from human experience. We argue that a geological vision of the earth’s age is very much at stake in George Eliot’s Silas Marner (1861), a novel that superimposes the workings of geological time onto one man’s ageing body. Eliot’s novel therefore provides a case study of the geological imaginary, by highlighting the multilayered nature of “age” that continues to spur twenty-first century artistic initiatives.
Linda Hogan’s novel Power explores the attempts of three scientific discourses—law, anthropology, and environmentalism, all of which rely on empirical evidence and search for causality in the object of study—to articulate the subjectivity of both the Native American (in this case, the Taigas) and the endangered Florida panther. I argue that Hogan’s narrative stages a rupture whereby the connection cannot be made between confessor and listener and wherein the testimony of the authority is continually confounded and interrupted by the subjects whose testimonies are solicited. More specifically, the connection cannot be made between anthropologist and Taiga Indian, between lawyer and wit- ness, or between environmentalist and panther.