Eco-criticism(s) and Victorian Fiction: A Review Essay
- Dickens Studies Annual: Essays on Victorian Fiction
- Penn State University Press
- Volume 52, Number 1, 2021
- pp. 103-137
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This article offers an overview of the now burgeoning field of Victorian ecocriticism. Ecocriticism (or environmental criticism) emerged as a distinct field of study in the 1990s, focused on reevaluating Romantic and nonfictional representations of nature as part of a green tradition of deep ecological thinking. As ecocriticism diversified, it took a more sociocentric (or social ecological) turn, and in so doing, it also took a more active interest in the Victorian period. As a new generation of ecocritics have emphasized, the Victorian period marked an epochal shift in the nature of lived existence, as a rural society was transformed into an industrialized, urbanized, and recognizably modern society, with recognizably modern environmental problems. In reacting to those problems, Victorian writers anticipated many of our own concerns, as recent ecocritical reconsiderations of Dickens’s work underline. As the variety of those responses to Dickens’s oeuvre also suggest, ecocriticism today encompasses a range of sometimes markedly different theoretical approaches and concerns. Those approaches are nevertheless united by a shared sense that a Victorian ecocriticism constitutes a distinct and worthwhile field of study, with the very real potential to illuminate the origins of the environmental crises bequeathed by the world’s first industrial nation.