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  • Olive Moore, Queer Ecology, and Anthropocene Modernism
  • David Shackleton (bio)

In Olive Moore's novel Spleen (1930), the main character Ruth encounters a "procession of unemployed" passing through Trafalgar Square: "[t]he men, it seemed, were from the distressed areas of the North; were from the closed steel and iron works; were miners from Wales; were dockers from the Clyde. They had gathered in the North and had come down on foot with their banners and their massed appeal to protest."1 She "turned to the group nearest her on the pavement; warmly dressed, middle-class. The man looked carved: the woman dried: the child bled: the dog inflated" (Moore, Spleen, 128). The juxtaposition of the two groups defamiliarizes the middle-class family: several of the family members appear as inanimate objects, and the colons in the sentence which ostensibly connect them together equally function to separate and estrange them. Yet the contrast also makes strange the relationship between the family and the workers, and thereby brings together the sexual and environmental politics that are intertwined throughout the novel: it is not just the family that is put into question therein, but also the reproduction of the conditions of production of a fossil fuel capitalism.

The imbrication of sexual and environmental politics in Spleen make it a key work of "queer ecology" in Catriona Sandilands's sense of the term as the "constellation of practices that aim, in different ways, to disrupt prevailing heterosexist discursive and institutional articulations of sexuality and nature."2 This broad definition allows the possibility that artworks can be examples of queer ecology, and can further its central task of developing a sexual politics that includes consideration of the natural world and its biosocial constitution, and an environmental politics that [End Page 355] is sensitive to the ways in which sexual relations shape the material world of nature and perceptions of that world. Indeed, Sandilands opens the way to a fuller investigation of a specifically modernist queer ecology when she identifies E. M. Forster's Maurice (1914/1971) and Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness (1928) as literary works that anticipate the queer ecological scholarship that has emerged since the 1990s.3 As part of a recent ecocritical turn in modernist studies, scholars have extended such an approach: for example, Kelly Sultzbach and Benjamin Bateman have advanced queer ecological readings of Forster.4 Such readings recognize that, at a time when various discourses had recently defined sexuality as being "by nature," modernist writers explored the lives of those whose forms of non-normative gender and sexuality put them at odds with prevailing kinship structures and conceptions of "nature," and used these lives to imagine the possibility of better organizations of society and better relationships with the environment.5

In turn, I argue, works of modernist queer ecology can be placed within a wider field of Anthropocene modernism. The Anthropocene is the name of a proposed geological epoch in which humans have fundamentally changed the Earth system and altered the course of the Earth's geological evolution. Anthropocene modernism is a literary and cultural modernism that registers the environmental transformations such as climate change that are now considered to characterize this epoch, and offers the potential for rethinking the pressing environmental concerns of the present. By drawing attention to Ruth's cultivation of a queer environmentalism and the novel's climatic impressionism, and situating both in the context of anthropogenic climate change, I suggest that Spleen should be recognized as a provocative work of Anthropocene modernism.

In part, to read Spleen in these terms provides a revised account of the vexed issue of Moore's feminism. Very little is known about Constance Vaughan, who adopted the pseudonym "Olive Moore." She worked as a journalist, first for the Daily Sketch and later for Scope, an industry magazine, and was a member of Charles Lahr's Red Lion Street circle, a literary group that congregated around Lahr's anarchist bookshop in Holborn.6 She published three novels—Celestial Seraglio (1929), Spleen (1930), and Fugue (1932)—and a selection from her writing notebooks, including an essay on D. H. Lawrence (which had previously been published by the Blue Moon...


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