Savage Arcadia: The American Romance in The Anthropocene
Carson, Joseph Thomas
Doctor of Philosophy
“Savage Arcadia: The American Romance in the Anthropocene” posits American writers of the romance have been writing about what we now call the Anthropocene, the geological epoch in which human activity becomes geographically and environmentally measurable and irreversible, for over 200 years. From the American Renaissance, with figures such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, to early 20th century writers such as Charles Chesnutt and William Faulkner, “Savage Arcadia” traces a persistent yet evolving recognition of environmental change, and it is through this persistent engagement with environmental transformation that the American romance novel traces the passage of time while exploring futurity and finality. As a literary history of climate change, “Savage Arcadia” reveals the dynamism between American romance and the Anthropocene. Yoking the romance and the Anthropocene, “Savage Arcadia” illuminates the pernicious resurgence of romanticism in moments of economic, national and environmental crisis. Whereas American literary criticism rehearses the familiar story of the limitations of romance and its detachment from reality, this project returns to the romance with the critical tools of ecocriticism and posthumanism, thereby revealing the romance as a genre where materiality and the environment are as important as the human elements. Tracing environmental destruction across the 19th and early 20th centuries, “Savage Arcadia” pays sustained attention to one of the most iconic features of our romantic landscape, the tree, and reads figures of the tree and its associated forms (boards, timber and deforestation) as symptoms of authors’ evolving recognition of the impact of environmental change over time. With particular attention to African American labor in the South, my project draws on the Anthropocene as an ecological reading practice to reshape the critical landscape and historical narratives of Emancipation, Reconstruction and Jim Crow. In turn, these critical archives of labor and race reveal the theoretical limitations of contemporary theories of the Anthropocene.
Romance; Anthropocene; Tree; Race; Labor