Inorganic Bodies, Longing to Become Organic: Hunger and Environment in Thomas Carlyle’s The French Revolution
Hunger is a defining characteristic of revolutionary France in Thomas Carlyle’s The French Revolution: A History (1837). This chapter argues that by identifying revolutionary hunger as a point of crisis between a human society and the non-human environment that feeds it, Carlyle’s references to digestion extend beyond a purely social critique and necessitate an ecocritical reading. Many of Carlyle’s contemporaries, most notably Thomas Malthus, explored digestion as a focal point of humanity’s relationship with a non-human environment. This chapter explores Carlyle’s complication and dismissal of such materialist readings of this digestive exchange through his symbolic narration of “Hunger” as an autonomous feature of the revolutionary environment in its own right.