The climate emergency has spawned a genre of fiction, but David Higgins, Professor of Environmental Humanities, and postdoctoral fellow Dr Tess Somervell have shown how, through the ages, literature has offered a valuable perspective on environmental changes.
Writing in The Conversation, they cite examples such as literature’s oldest epic poem, Epic of Gilgamesh (c1800 BC), which tells of a huge flood, that stemmed from a cultural memory of sea level rise after the Ice Age.
Similarly, Byron’s Darkness, Percy Shelley’s Mont Blanc and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which were written as global temperatures plummeted after an Indonesian volcanic eruption during 1816, reveal anxieties about our vulnerability to the environment.
The researchers concluded: “Literature reminds us of the need to take responsibility for our own impact on the environment. We may not want to view climate change as divine punishment, but when Milton suggests it was the fall of man that replaced Eden’s eternal spring with ‘pinching cold and scorching heat’, his narrative resonates with our present crisis.”