Abstract

In 1890 Eugene Schieffelin, the chairman of the American Acclimatization Society, released sixty European Starlings into Central Park in an effort to populate America with all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare. By 1900 Schieffelin’s starlings had spread beyond New York, and by the twenty-first century their population had grown to an estimated two hundred million. However, the success of the starlings has resulted in problems. Large flocks congregate in cities and produce tremendous amounts of feces, which pose health risks for humans. Furthermore, starlings are exceptionally aggressive birds, taking over the nests of native species such as woodpeckers and bluebirds. Perhaps Schieffelin should have considered Shakespeare’s context: in Henry IV, Part I Hotspur considers using the call of the starling to drive the king mad.1 This intersection of the urban, the literary, and the environmental suggests a potentially fertile site for ecocriticism. Since the 1980s environmental historians have focused on the interface between the natural and the human in urban environments. Martin Melosi defines urban environmental history as the story of how “the physical features and resources of urban sites (and regions) influence and are shaped by natural forces, growth, spatial change and development, and human action.”2 This interplay of the natural and the human is particularly evident in such issues as sanitation, pest control, pollution, and the segregation of space in cities. More recently, literary ecocritics have also begun to engage with the city. The essays in Michael Bennett and David Teague’s groundbreaking anthology, The Nature of Cities (1999), focus on “the process by which cultural production is implicated in human adaptation to urban habitats.”3 In this essay, I situate Stephen Crane’s novel Maggie (1893) in the contexts of progressive urban reform and the newly-developed science of ecology. My ecocritical reading emphasizes the significance of material conditions in the production of psychological attitudes.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.