Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Literature and Climate in the Nineteenth Century
Academic Year
Semester 1
Reading List
Other Staff

Course Delivery



Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Course Work Assessment  Coursework assessment: either (critical) a 3,000-word comparative essay; or (creative) 2000 words of fiction (or poetry, pro rata) and a 1,000-word critical commentary.  100%
Supplementary Assessment Portfolio  Coursework assessment: either (critical) a 3,000-word comparative essay; or (creative) 2000 words of fiction (or poetry, pro rata) and a 1,000-word critical commentary.  100%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1.​ Demonstrate knowledge of a range of literary texts from across the Nineteenth Century

2. Locate texts in appropriate cultural and historical contexts

3. Articulate a detailed critical analysis of individual texts from the period that shows an understanding of their distinctive qualities

4. Relate texts from the period either to each other or to a common theme

5. Reflect on the relevance of literature from the past to our understanding of the current climate crisis

Brief description

This module explores shared perspectives between Romantic, Victorian and current imaginings of the forms, impacts and consequences of climate change. The module traces important aspects of our own sense of climate emergency in the nineteenth century’s early responses to industrialisation and fears about its impact on Nature; its growing awareness of ecosystems and humanity’s place in, and influence on, them; the development of weather science; and the processing of all of the above through art and literature.

A study of the nineteenth century is instrumental to our understanding of climate change because this was the century in which rapid industrialisation and increasing reliance on fossil fuels sowed the seeds of our current crisis. It was also the century that saw the emergence of an organised environmental movement and the development of scientific tools to register the impact of human activity on the natural world. Studying literature from this era allows us to uncover habits of thought that have contributed to this crisis, while also returning to view ideas that may be valuable as we address new climate challenges in the present.

The module is bookended by literary and cultural responses to two large-scale climate events – Romanticism’s experience of the eruption of Tambora in 1816, the year without a summer, which resulted in widespread crop failure; and the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, which gave rise to apocalyptic poetry and fiction that responded to weather changes and unusual sunsets.


Session 1: Introduction

This historicising opening seminar explores ways in which ideas of the interconnectedness of human culture and Nature developed in the early nineteenth century. It provides an overview of key ecocritical approaches. Texts will be selected from the module booklet.

Session 2: 1816, the ‘Year Without a Summer’

In 1816, the planet experienced an episode of global cooling caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora the previous year. We explore a range of writing that attempted to measure and understand the climactic impacts of the eruption. Texts for discussion include Byron’s “Darkness”, official accounts of the eruption, writings by Mary and Percy Shelley and paintings by John Constable.

Session 3: Local impacts: industry and environment

1800 is often taken as the starting point of the Anthropocene. This session considers representations by Romantic writers and painters of perceived changes to local landscapes and waterscapes through industrialisation. Texts include Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” and drawings and paintings by J. M. W. Turner.

Session 4: Romantic weather

This seminar explores Romantic representations of weather through extracts from Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Mary Shelley’s The Last Man alongside paintings and extracts from early nineteenth-century meteorological writings, including Luke Howard’s On the Modifications of Clouds (1803).

Session 5: Deep time: the emergence of climate science

The first half of the module closes by considering how new understandings of geological time and longer-term weather patterns began to influence creative responses. Extracts from literary and scientific texts selected from the module booklet, including James Hutton’s Theory of the Earth (1795) (including his ‘Theory of Rain’), Luke Howard’s The Climate of London (1818), and Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology (1830-1833).

Session 6: Entanglement, Ecology and Extinction

This week explores some key themes from nineteenth-century science that became part of the conversation about the relationship between humans and the natural world. We will look at extracts from scientific works alongside literary texts including Edith Nesbit’s ‘The Deliverers of Their Country’ and extracts from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam’.

Session 7: Killer Fog

We will explore responses to industrialisation and its attendant smog and pollution. Texts will include John Ruskin’s ‘The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century’ and Robert Parr’s short story ‘The Doom of London’.

Session 8: Imagined Futures

Through a discussion of extracts from speculative fiction, including H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and William Morris’s News from Nowhere, we will explore different ideas about the future of humanity’s relationship to nature.

Session 9: Humans vs. Nature

We will discuss fiction and poetry that presents an antagonistic relationship between humans and nature, both from the perspective of anxiety about destruction of the natural world and from the point of view of celebrating human mastery over nature. Empire and technology will both be significant themes. Texts will include George Griffith’s ‘A Corner in Lightning’ and Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘Binsey Poplars’.

Session 10: Red Sunsets and Purple Clouds

Returning to the theme of volcanic eruption and natural disturbance that began the module, we will read poetry, fiction and non-fiction prose responses to the atmospheric disturbances that followed the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number
Communication Addressing the challenges of writing about literary responses to climate change.
Improving own Learning and Performance Improving writing in response to essay feedback, and improving reading and research skills.
Information Technology Undertaking research for the reflective journal and essay, as well as and background reading for seminar topics.
Personal Development and Career planning Through critical self-reflection; transferrable communication and research skills.
Problem solving Addressing the challenges of writing about literary responses to climate change.
Research skills Addressing the challenges of writing about literary responses to climate change.
Subject Specific Skills Ability to compare and contrast texts; ability to discuss key issues around climate change and to apply ecocritical theory; ability to conduct literary and cultural analysis.
Team work Participation and collaboration in seminars.


This module is at CQFW Level 5