Author(s): Margaret S. Kennedy (State University of New York, Stony Brook)
Miasmic language in Charles Kingsley's novels Yeast and Alton Locke imaginatively renders unseen dirt visible through synaesthesia. I suggest that Kingsley is engaging in discursive activism through consistent suggestion of the concept of miasma in these works in order to increase public anxiety about pollution. This linguistic strategy was designed to incite real action through a provocation toward what I call ‘eco-consciousness’ in his readers. Miasmic language gets under the skin, opening readers' eyes to anthropogenic pollution and their concomitant vulnerability to contagion. Kingsley sensationalises toxicity to uncover the environmental horrors in domestic spaces. Miasma startles fictional characters, who “see and “feel” smell, as the reader ought to be startled by miasmic language designed to stimulate or overwhelm the senses. Kingsley's fictional authors, Locke and Smith, frequently employ words from the miasmic lexicon – i.e., 'foul', 'reeking', and 'stagnant' – to describe the filth engulfing England. Though these words connote vapours, or miasmata, Kingsley broadens the concept of foul dampness from organic matter to man-made dangers, such as industrial fumes and waste particles. Yeast, set in the rural South, and Alton Locke, set in urban London, offer a complete picture of filth, revealing widespread environmental injustice.
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