Anthropocene Forms and the Victorian Novel: Micronarratives in Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders

Published: Oct 29, 2023
Synthesis Anglophone Journal of Comparative Literary Studies Comparative Literature re-storying stories multispecies survival multispecies narratives Thomas Hardy ecocriticism Anthropocene formalism The Woodlanders scale Victorian literature new materialism
Elisabeth Alexandra Strayer

In the Anthropocene, how can the novel provide a suitable form for ecological thought? This article assesses Victorian literature’s capacity to encompass large-scale intertwined forces, drawing on Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders (1887) to argue that the novel can constitute micro-localised worlds, expanding the environmental imagination with its melding of human and more-than-human entities. Entangling character with environment and vacillating between foreground and background, Hardy’s novel offers numerous moments of ecological description that position humans as interconnected components of the rural ecosphere. Nearly always, these moments animate the more-than-human realm by imbricating multiple facets of the environment to create what Eduardo Kohn terms ‘an ecology of selves.’ Rather than aggrandising or abolishing human agency, then, this sort of microfocus allows the novelist to place humans within the context of other modes of experience, other scales of being, and other methods of acting and feeling, methods that are crucial for grappling with the Anthropocene.

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Author Biography
Elisabeth Alexandra Strayer, Cornell University

Elisabeth Alexandra Strayer received her Ph.D. in Literatures in English from Cornell University. Her dissertation, Victorian Microcosms: Environmental Formalism in the Novel, argues that formal structures within the Victorian novel serve as techniques of enclosing—and thus rendering representable—large-scale climatic systems, offering an increasingly capacious vision of the environment in Victorian culture, a crucial context for tracing the history of anthropogenic climate change.

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