Climate change in literature and literary criticism



This article provides an overview of climate change in literature, focusing on the representation of climate change in Anglophone fiction. It then evaluates the way in which these fictional representations are critiqued in literary studies, and considers the extent to which the methods and tools that are currently employed are adequate to this new critical task. We explore how the complexity of climate change as both scientific and cultural phenomenon demands a corresponding degree of complexity in fictional representation. For example, when authors represent climate change as a global, networked, and controversial phenomenon, they move beyond simply employing the environment as a setting and begin to explore its impact on plot and character, producing unconventional narrative trajectories and innovations in characterization. Then, such creative complexity asks of literary scholars a reassessment of methods and approaches. For one thing, it may require a shift in emphasis from literary fiction to genre fiction. It also particularly demands that environmental criticism, or ecocriticism, moves beyond its long-standing interest in concepts of ‘nature’ and ‘place’, to embrace a new understanding of the local in relation to the global. We suggest, too, that there are synergies to be forged between these revisionary moves in ecocriticism and developments in literary critical theory and historicism, as these critical modes begin to deal with climate change and reimagine themselves in turn. WIREs Clim Change 2011 2 185–200 DOI: 10.1002/wcc.105

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