Is ecocriticism new?
Yes and no. For as long as human beings have been writing, and reflecting on what others have written, we have been considering the relationship that we have with the natural world. This began long before Plato and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. Indeed, because the concept of “nature” has been given so much thought, it is, as an early ecocritic (Raymond Williams) noted, perhaps the most difficult of all ideas to understand. In spite of the fact that nature is such an old and difficult concept, in the 1960s and ’70s a number of literary critics, including Lynn White Jr., Leo Marx, Carolyn Merchant, Keith Thomas, and Williams, began considering what literature can tell us about our relationship to the natural world, as well as our current environmental crisis. In many respects, these were the first modern environmental critics. Consequently, the term “ecocriticism” was coined in the 1970s. In the opening decade of the twenty-first century, interest in environmental criticism increased exponentially; it promises to be one of the most important fields of literary study in upcoming decades.