312 pages, 25 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
Green Retreats presents a lively and beautifully illustrated account of eighteenth-century women in their gardens, in the context of the larger history of their retirement from the world – whether willed or enforced – and of their engagement with the literature of gardening. Beginning with a survey of cultural representations of the woman in the garden, Stephen Bending goes on to tell the stories, through their letters, diaries and journals, of some extraordinary eighteenth-century women including Elizabeth Montagu and the Bluestocking circle, the gardening neighbours Lady Caroline Holland and Lady Mary Coke, and Henrietta Knight, Lady Luxborough, renowned for her scandalous withdrawal from the social world. The emphasis on how gardens were used, as well as designed, allows the reader to rethink the place of women in the eighteenth century, and understand what was at stake for those who stepped beyond the flower garden and created their own landscapes.
"Bending's wonderful volume, with its integration of literature and garden cultivation, adds significantly to our understanding not only of the ways we can situate women in eighteenth-century garden culture, but also of the mechanisms by which women fashioned their identity in concert with, and sometimes against, their landscape."
– Eighteenth-Century Studies
"I read this book with extraordinary interest and enjoyment. It adds a new facet to our understanding of eighteenth-century women's lives. No one has examined so carefully the concept of retirement and its complex nuances; Stephen Bending writes with power about the women whose garden work has seized his imagination."
– Rachel Crawford, University of San Francisco
"[...] from pastoral idyll to shameful seclusion, Stephen Bending's study offers an original and overdue account of the female figure in the gardening landscape in the eighteenth century, and brings to the fore the full expressive range of women's gardening in this period."
– Karen O'Brien, University of Birmingham
"Well researched [...] crammed with stories, extracts of letters, diaries and journals."
– History Today
"Told through their letters, diaries and journals, here are illustrated stories of some extraordinary eighteenth-century women and their gardens, seen in the context of the larger history of their retirement from the world and their engagement with the literature of gardening [...] an intriguing work that would be heavily used in almost any academic library [...] highly recommended."
1. 'Gladly I leave the town': retirement
2. 'No way qualified for retirement': disgrace
3. Bluestocking gardens: Elizabeth Montagu at Sandleford
4. Neighbours in retreat: Lady Mary Coke and the Hollands
5. 'Can you not forgive?' Henrietta Knight at Barrells Hall
6. 'Though very retired, I am very happy'
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Stephen Bending is a Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Southampton.