Hsuan L. Hsu is a professor of English at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of Geography and the Production of Space in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2010) and Sitting in Darkness: Mark Twain’s Asia and Comparative Racialization (New York Univ. Press, 2015), and is serving on the editorial boards of the Journal of Transnational American Studies and Literary Geographies. He is currently working on a monograph about olfactory aesthetics and environmental risk.
This essay considers naturalist and neonaturalist deployments of smell as a means of mapping uneven and potentially toxic atmospheres in the contexts of Progressive Era urbanization and twentieth-century environmental “slow violence.” After showing how the description of noxious “smellscapes” structures Norris’s Vandover and the Brute (1914), I move on to consider the use of smell in key scenes in the writings of Ann Petry and Helena Viramontes. While environmental justice novels extend Norris’s interest in connections between smell, health, and stratified air, they also explore how these issues intersect with racially uneven geographies in the twentieth century.