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Climate and the Making of Worlds

Toward a Geohistorical Poetics

In this book, Tobias Menely develops a materialist ecocriticism, tracking the imprint of the planetary across a long literary history of poetic rewritings and critical readings which continually engage with the climate as a condition of human world making. Menely’s central archive is English poetry written between John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) and Charlotte Smith’s “Beachy Head” (1807)—a momentous century and a half during which Britain, emerging from a crisis intensified by the Little Ice Age, established the largest empire in world history and instigated the Industrial Revolution. Incorporating new sciences into ancient literary genres, these ambitious poems aspired to encompass what the eighteenth-century author James Thomson called the “system . . . entire.” Thus they offer a unique record of geohistory, Britain’s epochal transition from an agrarian society, buffeted by climate shocks, to a modern coal-powered nation. Climate and the Making of Worlds is a bracing and sophisticated contribution to ecocriticism, the energy humanities, and the prehistory of the Anthropocene.

272 pages | 2 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2021

History: British and Irish History, Environmental History

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature, General Criticism and Critical Theory


“Menely’s book addresses an extraordinarily taxing interpretive problem. How has the turbulence of the Earth itself intervened in the history of poetic form? His answer is revelatory. With erudition, subtlety, and literary éclat, Menely sets out a geohistorical criticism whereby poetry from Milton to the Romantics is rendered new. Climate and the Making of Worlds will have a profound and immediate influence on environmental criticism of the long eighteenth century. All subsequent scholarship in the field will have to reckon with its radiant insights.”

Jeremy Davies, University of Leeds

Climate and the Making of Worlds is a bracing, fully-realized example of what it means to reconceptualize literary history—and indeed, critical theory—in terms that finally avow the Earth as the active condition of every form of cultural production. Menely illuminates the power of verse to disclose its dependency upon the energetic vicissitudes of a planet that both enables and exceeds human economic and imaginative ends. As careful as it is courageous, Climate and the Making of Worlds will constitute an indispensable treatise on method for materialist ecocriticism and the energy humanities for years to come.”

Amanda Jo Goldstein, University of California, Berkeley

Climate and the Making of Worlds is a well-researched, cogently argued, and unusually perceptive analysis of the poetic transformations that registered an epochal rift: the shift in the eighteenth-century from an advanced organic economy based on solar energy to an energy economy dependent on fossil fuels. Drawing on a wide range of scholarship in economics, ecological thought, the history of science, and ecocriticism, Menely brilliantly explores how the transformation of Britain’s energy economy shaped georgic and locodescriptive verse from John Milton to Charlotte Smith.”

Robert Markley, University of Illinois

"Climate and the Making of Worlds is a stunning book. . . . an ambitious and important intervention into literary studies [which] decisively shows that the sociopolitical analysis of texts is more powerful and more comprehensive when critics acknowledge the Earth system that underlies all human activity."

Modern Philology

Table of Contents

Introduction: Stratigraphic Criticism
Chapter 1. “Earth Trembled”: Paradise Lost, the Little Ice Age, and the Climate of Allegory
Chapter 2. “The Works of Nature”: Descriptive Poetry and the History of the Earth in Thomson’s The Seasons
Chapter 3. Mine, Factory, and Plantation: The Industrial Georgic and the Crisis of Description
Chapter 4. Uncertain Atmospheres: Romantic Lyricism in the Time of the Anthropocene
Afterword: The Literary Past and the Planetary Future
Bibliographic Note


Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment: ASLE Book Award

Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts: Michelle Kendrick Memorial Book Prize

Center for Robert Penn Warren Studies: Warren-Brooks Award

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