Date of Award

Spring 2023

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Robin Hackett

Second Advisor

Siobhan Senier

Third Advisor

Brigitte Bailey


By reading modernist literature on the edge of the Anthropocene, I argue in this dissertation that modernist authors, through the experimental aesthetics of their works, are able to articulate the beginnings of anthropogenic climate change in the early-twentieth century. The early-twentieth century, and particularly the interwar period, in which British modernist authors such as E. M. Forster, Rebecca West, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Virginia Woolf, and T. S. Eliot were writing coincides with the early-twentieth-century ramp up period of human activity rising to the level of a geological force before the beginning of the Anthropocene. While this dissertation does not argue that these authors were proto-environmentalists, their attentiveness to recording the changes to their environments they witnessed and their efforts to represent the nonhuman world in innovative ways demonstrates interest in and even concern for the material world. This dissertation in turn contributes to the movement of modernist literary criticism beyond the notion that modernists were primarily concerned with form and aesthetics above the socio-political issues of their time. Instead, their imaginative aesthetics are key to their representation of the unprecedented rate and magnitude of environmental change in the early-twentieth century, and these aesthetics constitute what I define as the modernist ecological imagination. It is through their examination of the precarity of life within threatened environments, their engagement with thinking across multiple and deep temporalities, and their imagining of the redemption that might be found in reconnecting with nature that modernist responses to growing anthropogenic change may also aid us in imagining more equitable and sustainable futures in the Anthropocene. Ultimately, this dissertation suggests the critical role literature and the arts play in not only our abilities to recognize what is at stake in the climate crisis, but also in imagining potential solutions to the greatest existential threat of our time.

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