What is it about?

In Charles Dickens’s late novels, the fog is never just fog; it mingles also with smoke and soot. Through a reading of key passages from Bleak House, Hard Times, and Our Mutual Friend, this article will argue that Dickens’s representations of smoke-filled fogs accrue multiple meanings through a series of implied associations or metonymic links, which depict the atmosphere as a flashpoint in larger metabolic exchanges between nature and society arising from the organized extraction of coal for domestic heating and fuelling factory production. Dickens’s highly suggestive language conjures Victorian anxieties about smoke pollution, energy consumption, and the socially and environmentally destructive character of capitalism, the latter of which pushes such metabolic interfaces towards a point of instability and rupture. Dickens’s representation of this imbrication of human and non-human natures (particularly in the atmosphere) now also prefigures present-day concerns about anthropogenic climate change, which characterize life in the Anthropocene. The article concludes by suggesting that Dickens’s novels are a resource for any future “climate realism” that strives to model the social roots of global warming.

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Why is it important?

This article puts Charles Dickens's novels in conversation with contemporary concerns about climate change. In the process, the essay explores the ways in which realist literature, past and present, can help us better understand the social origins of global warming.


This articles strives to show how literature of the past can shed light on contemporary issues, which the author could not have known about.

Thomas Laughlin
University of Toronto

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Fog, Coal, Capitalism: Dickens's Energy Atmospherics and the Anthropocene, Resilience A Journal of the Environmental Humanities, January 2020, Project Muse,
DOI: 10.5250/resilience.7.2-3.0132.
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