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The Sky of Our Manufacture

The London Fog in British Fiction from Dickens to Woolf
Jesse Oak Taylor

BUY Paper · 272 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813937939 · $29.50 · Mar 2016
BUY Cloth · 272 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813937922 · $65.00 · Mar 2016
BUY Ebook · 272 pp. · ISBN 9780813937946 · $29.50 · Mar 2016

ASLE Book Awards, Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (2017); Sonya Rudikoff Northeast Victorian Studies Association Award, Northeast Victorian Studies Association (2018)

The smoke-laden fog of London is one of the most vivid elements in English literature, richly suggestive and blurring boundaries between nature and society in compelling ways. In The Sky of Our Manufacture, Jesse Oak Taylor uses the many depictions of the London fog in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century novel to explore the emergence of anthropogenic climate change. In the process, Taylor argues for the importance of fiction in understanding climatic shifts, environmental pollution, and ecological collapse.

The London fog earned the portmanteau "smog" in 1905, a significant recognition of what was arguably the first instance of a climatic phenomenon manufactured by modern industry. Tracing the path to this awareness opens a critical vantage point on the Anthropocene, a new geologic age in which the transformation of humanity into a climate-changing force has not only altered our physical atmosphere but imbued it with new meanings. The book examines enduringly popular works--from the novels of Charles Dickens and George Eliot to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dracula, and the Sherlock Holmes mysteries to works by Joseph Conrad and Virginia Woolf--alongside newspaper cartoons, scientific writings, and meteorological technologies to reveal a fascinating relationship between our cultural climate and the sky overhead.

Under the Sign of Nature: Studies in Ecocriticism


Taylor’s book has an astonishing breadth of reference, from Punch to scientific papers to canonical literature to children’s stories. The richness of nineteenth-century literature and society discussed here is tremendous, and the readings are wonderfully nuanced and illuminating. One of the most impressive books of ecocriticism I’ve read to date.

Greg Garrard, University of British Columbia, editor of The Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism

Taylor’s masterful book vastly extends the scope of ecocriticism. Through deft analyses of Victorian and early modern texts, he proposes changes to our understanding of narrative and its relation to the ‘natural world. His theoretical command and textual virtuosity produce a vibrant and compelling argument about how climate constructs narrative and about how readers and writers alike, construct climate. This is a must read.

Karen S. Chase Levenson, University of Virginia. author of The Victorians and Old Age

Remarkable... In frequently delightful detail Taylor parses the work of fog, smog, atmosphere, and the London climate in fiction by Dickens, George Eliot, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Virginia Woolf, and others... Taylor helps us consider what it means that we have been doing something about the weather for quite a while now.

Modern Language Quarterly

This book marks a new standard for ecocriticism on the Victorian novel and the transition to British Modernism, one that helps its readers imagine the ways our understanding of the Anthropocene’s emergence transforms our understanding of the past.... Taylor demonstrates the ways that internalizing the idea of the Anthropocene reshapes our understanding of canonical texts we thought we knew.


This engaging work of ecocriticism offers a much needed reading of ‘atmosphere’ in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British fiction.... Oak Taylor convincingly suggests that a shared ‘atmosphere’ makes it necessary for contemporary readers to think of themselves as part of a post-industrial continuum with the nineteenth century, not only in terms of aesthetic developments, but also in terms of environmental responsibilities.

Review of English Studies

Jesse Oak Taylor’s The Sky of Our Manufacture is the latest book in the University of Virginia Press series Under the Sign of Nature, which has been publishing books of ecocriticism since 1998. The series is a fine example of the attempts now being made to make ecocriticism extend its range beyond thematic reading.... The Sky of Our Manufacture offers throughout a number of useful new coinages, amongthem: atmospheric reading, the "abnatural," and climatic modernism. It offers a new periodizingschema—"the smog era"—based on anthropogenic climate change that bridges and partlyreconfigures the Victorian, fin-de-sie`cle, and modernist literary periods (218). It offers a numberof new, insightful, and profound ways to do ecocritical reading. It is an important step in makingecocriticism as central to literary criticism as it deserves to be.

Modernism / Modernity

About the Author(s): 

Jesse Oak Taylor is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Washington and the coauthor, with Daniel C. Taylor and Carl E. Taylor, of Empowerment on an Unstable Planet: From Seeds of Human Energy to a Scale of Global Change.

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