Victorian Literature and Culture
Elizabeth Miller, University of California, Davis

Extraction Ecologies and Victorian Literature

Abstract

This paper is taken from my current book project, “Extraction Ecologies and the Literature of the Long Exhaustion, 1830-1930,” which examines extraction capitalism as an ecological strategy in the century following the Industrial Revolution and asks how extraction left its mark on the literary, textual, and aesthetic forms of nineteenth-century Britain and its empire. While quarrying, mining, and the extraction of underground commodities are industries that long predate our period, nineteenth-century Britain saw a ramping up of extraction as the steam engine and other new technologies, including new explosives, contributed to an unprecedented acceleration in extraction and the global establishment of an extractivist version of ecological imperialism. The focus of my analysis here will be two key Victorian literary genres that depict human life in extraction-based society: provincial realism and the colonial adventure tale. If London novels, as Jesse Oak Taylor and Allen MacDuffie have recently demonstrated, are stories of fog, combustion, and consumption, we must go outside the city, to provincial and colonial settings, to find extraction’s forms in the nineteenth-century fictional landscape. Just as the rhythms of agricultural labor are bound up in the forms of the pastoral, I argue that the industrialized mining of finite, underground, non-living, and non-reproductive stores of material possessed social and aesthetic forms of its own, forms that are evident in Victorian fiction and its rendering of time, space, and labor.

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