“Rivers Change Like Nations”: Reading Eco-Apocalypse in The Waters of Edera

  • Alicia CarrollEmail author


It is difficult to conceive of a river run dry in the Victorian novel. If ice-capped mountains signify the sublime for the Romantic poet, the rushing river is the signature image through which the Victorian novelist powers a myth of community. “Ice forms above,” declares George Levine, but “rivers flow below, fertilizing the land, bearing human traffic, building human communities” in Victorian novels such as Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend, and News from Nowhere (137). In these novels, water flows seemingly “for ever,” bearing story forward with its limitless power. Distinct as such fictional rivers are in the novels of Dickens, Eliot, or Conrad, each tells the same environmental story; that is, that water is always flowing, a metaphor for the sheer abundance of Victorian narrative itself. Ouida’s The Waters of the Edera (1900), perhaps the first Victorian novel to take environmental action as its central theme, is then the more sensational as it features the threat of a great river run dry. Forerunner to the modern ecological disaster plot, the novel dramatizes the apocalyptic impact upon a local community when a river is “taken into bondage,” impounded and diverted to power an acetylene factory and an “electric railway” (174). With this impending disaster as its central theme, Ouida’s novel reverses the riverine discourse of Victorian fiction. Resolving her plot in an eco-apocalypse, she ends the course of the river and story simultaneously, contributing, I argue, to the possibilities and limits of future ecological narratives.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA

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