As a scholar of nineteenth and twentieth-century British literature, I apply interdisciplinary methods—particularly the digital humanities, the environmental humanities, and leisure studies—to explore representations of the cultural and material changes of modernity. My research examines how literature shapes perceptions of technological shifts that have drastically altered how people work, relax, communicate, and relate to the nonhuman world, thereby allowing me to recover the nineteenth and twentieth-century roots of contemporary attitudes toward labor, leisure, nature, and technology. My current projects include Leisure Fictions, on the rise of total leisure infrastructures (resorts, ocean liners, cruise ships, and hotels) and their impact on literary modernism, and Viral Modernisms, an investigation on the afterlives of modernist authors in social media and viral digital forms.
Right now, my work focuses on my book project, Charlotte Brontë at the Anthropocene, which is premised on the complementary insights that the Brontë family were attentive witnesses of the emergence of the Anthropocene and that this awareness of environmental change profoundly informed their artistic creations. Living in rural yet industrial Yorkshire towns in the early- and mid-19th century, the Brontës were squarely placed, both in time and space, at the inauguration of this new geological era, identified by contemporary climatologists as the successor to the Holocene. As the rapidly escalating consequences of a globalizing Industrial Revolution rendered human action the most powerful force shaping the Earth, the Brontës documented environmental change in their representations of moorlands, extinctions, deforestation, industrialization, and urbanization. By investigating the convergences of these representations with nineteenth-century science and Anthropocenic theory, Charlotte Brontë at the Anthropocene reveals how the Brontës offer a provocative prehistory for the complex images and narratives that shape public debates about climate change today.
Viewed through this lens, Charlotte Brontë’s aesthetic investment in the natural world emerges as a productive, sustained conflict between anthropocentrism, with its hierarchical vision of human mastery over nature, and multispeciesism, which emphasizes the mutual interdependence of human and non-human species. By moving from her early drawings and juvenilia to Jane Eyre and Shirley, and by comparing The Professor with its later reformulation as Villette, I show how Brontë layers visions of the deep time of nonhuman history with more foreshortened regional histories and with the considerably condensed timeframes of particular ecological crises and individual human lives. This layering allows Brontë to figure the Anthropocene through a powerful and unusual double lens as both a crisis and a state of being, characterized equally by crises (events such as disasters and deaths) and by states of being (conditions such as toxicity and mourning). The result is that Bronte’s oeuvre juxtaposes, but refuses to reconcile, divergent attitudes toward human influences on and responsibilities to the nonhuman world.
Although my primary argument traces the development of Charlotte’s ecological imagination, central in this monograph are the Brontë family’s personal experiences with environmental crises and the ecologies they construct in sermons, novels, poetry, juvenilia, and visual art. Analysis of their favored reading materials (particularly Blackwoods’, Chambers’s, Gilbert White, and Thomas Bewick) elucidates the Victorian scientific tropes that the family adopted, adapted, and challenged. Meanwhile, I weave in concepts from contemporary climate science, multispecies ethnograpy, and Anthropocene theory (including work by Stacy Alaimo, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour, Alexis Shotwell, Anna Tsing, and Joanna Zylinska) to reveal the axioms the Brontës isolate for living in the Anthropocenic: witness, redefine, write, tend, and mourn. The Brontës thus created some of the first literary ecosystems animated by human-caused environmental change—not only intervening in Victorian science and realism but also offering us, today, compelling models for imagining and living in the Anthropocene.
The point of Charlotte Brontë in the Anthropocene is not to argue that Charlotte Brontë was an environmentalist—or even to argue that she felt an unalloyed affection for a landscape that, in her letters and fiction, she was equally likely to deprecate as to defend—but instead to argue that the Brontës shaped powerful narratives about human-caused ecological change. As a result, this monograph provides for the Brontë community, and literary critics more generally, new readings of classic canonical texts. The neglected scientific and ecological content of Jane Eyre is recovered, while Shirley, so often regarded as an anomaly or as an aesthetic failure by Victorian scholarship, is contextualized as an integral part of Brontë’s changing attitudes toward the relationship between the individual, regional history, and environmental change. A comparison of The Professor and Villette pinpoints her career as a gradual incorporation of ecosystemic change as both a major theme and structuring element in her texts. Through this comparison, I argue that the structural eclecticism of The Professor is not an aesthetic weakness or evidence of a new author struggling to master the genre, but instead as Brontë’s method for embedding arguments about the relationship between concepts of Englishness and human interventions in local ecologies. Fresh readings of the Gondal juvenilia poems, Wuthering Heights (1847), Agnes Grey (1847), The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), and Patrick Brontë’s sermons, poems, and letters are used to situate Charlotte’s narration of the Anthropocene as a particular intervention within the broader context of the family’s scientific interests, particularly geology, botany, and natural history. By drawing from Brontë studies, Victorian literary criticism, science studies, and the environmental sciences, Charlotte Brontë at the Anthropocene combines close readings, regional ecological histories, and theoretical arguments into a compelling literary prehistory of climate change.
Charlotte Brontë and the Anthropocene argues that if we are to understand the Anthropocene, analyzing polar ice to derive historical atmospheric data is simply not enough. Nor is it enough to recover the tangled economic, biological, and industrial networks of its causation. It is necessary to recover the complex interactions of these networks with the development of persistent structures of feeling and thought about climate change at the dawn of the Anthropocene. I argue that one powerful method to accomplish this recovery is by re-examining Victorian literature as a mode of engagement with the end of the Holocene. Moreover, the success of this recovery requires a firm commitment to unearthing the fine details and narrative structures of particular personal experiences, which themselves must be understood as rooted in specific historical contexts and local histories. Accordingly, Charlotte Brontë and the Anthropocene provides a model for these literary and cultural prehistories, employing the interdisciplinary methodology of exploring the Anthropocene.
Further publication information can be found at my CV.