ENGL 596-01: 19th Century Ecologies

Section Description:

Nineteenth Century Ecologies The Victorians invented ecology. The term first entered English usage in 1875, in a British science journal, and while the word had been coined in German a few years before, that term had itself been adapted from Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859). Even earlier than this, British scientists, economists, and literary writers, among other thinkers, had begun to imagine human life as intimately related to other forms of being, and these entangled groupings to be themselves related to yet other entities across vast swaths of prehuman time. This course surveys England’s most modern century, the nineteenth, to track how the conceptual dilemmas of a world newly understood (in Darwin’s terms) as evolving, relational, and holistic generated dilemmas of aesthetic presentation. By what figural means could one hope to represent, in a coherent literary or artistic work, an entire ecosystem, where no single thing can be abstracted from that system of mutual codependence? Our readings will touch on nineteenth century scientific, literary, and political writing from across the period of early fossil-fueled industrialization; of special concern to us will be the vastly exploitative hierarchies enabled by the interplay of race and gender in this period, in particular as those categories played out in what is arguably the central institution of the British nineteenth century, the Empire. Coordinates will come from the recent volume of scholarly essays, Ecological Form: System and Aesthetics in the Age of Empire, whose authors we will engage with in a series of Skype discussions. Primary readings will include work by Mary and Percy Shelley; Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Charles Darwin, George Eliot, Christina Rossetti, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and others; theory and criticism from Donna Haraway, Anna Tsing, Timothy Mitchell, Gillian Beer, and others.