The nineteenth-century roots of environmental writing in American literature are often mentioned in passing and sometimes studied piece by piece. Writing the Environment in Nineteenth-Century American Literature brings together numerous explorations of environmentally-aware writing across the genres of nineteenth-century literature. Like Lawrence Buell, the authors of this collection find Thoreau's writing a touchstone of nineteenth-century environmental writing, particularly focusing on Thoreau's claim that humans may function as "scribes of nature". However, these studies of Thoreau's antecedents, contemporaries, and successors also reveal a range of other writers in the nineteenth century whose literary treatments of nature are often more environmentally attuned than most readers have noticed.
The writers whose works are studied in this collection include canonical and forgotten writers, men and women, early nineteenth-century and late nineteenth-century authors, pioneers and conservationists. They drew attention to the conflicted relationships between humans and the American continent, as experienced by Native Americans and European Americans. Taken together, these essays offer a fresh perspective on the roots of environmental literature in nineteenth-century American nonfiction, fiction, and poetry as well as in multi-genre compositions such as the travel writings of Margaret Fuller. Bringing largely forgotten voices such as John Godman alongside canonical voices such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson, the authors whose writings are studied in this collection produced a diverse tapestry of nascent American environmental writing in the nineteenth-century. From early nineteenth-century writers such as poet Philip Freneau and novelist Charles Brockden Brown to later nineteenth-century conservationists such as John James Audubon and John Muir, Scribes of Nature shows the development of an environmental consciousness and a growing conservationist ethos in American literature.
Given their often surprisingly healthy respect for the natural environment, these nineteenth-century writers offer us much to consider in an age of environmental crisis. The complexities of the supposed nature/culture divide still work into our lives today as economic and environmental issues are often seen at loggerheads when they ought to be seen as part of the same conversation of what it means to live healthy lives, and to pass on a healthy world to those who follow us in a world where human activity is becoming increasingly threatening to the health of our planet.
Scribes of Nature
Representing the Environment in Nineteenth-Century American Literature
Introduction: Toward an Environmental Ethos
Steven Petersheim and Madison P. Jones IV
The Faces of Nature: The Sublime, the Romantic, and the Real
1. Navigating the Interior: Edgar Huntly and the Mapping of Early America
2. John D. Godman and the Creation of the Ramble
3. Celebrating the ‘Great, Round, Solid Self’ of Earth in Hawthorne’s Short Fiction
Environmental and Cultural Landscapes of New England
“The Material and the Moral” in Concord
Interpreting Nature from a “Position Between”
The Intricacies of Nature: Ecological and Cultural Diversity
4. Learning to Woo Meaning from Apparent Chaos:The Wild Form of Summer on the Lakes Jeffrey Bilbro
Selfless Lovers in Chapter Four
Milton’s Influence on Fuller’ Search for a Republican Form
A Wild Text in Defense of a Wild Place
5. Shadow and Liminal Space in Typee and Walden
Madison P. Jones IV
Punning on Type in Typee
“I have traveled a good deal in Concord”: Walden as Travel Writing
6. Always Already Sexual: New Materialism in Whitman’s Leaves of Grass
Stephanie Peebles Tavera
External (Natural) Forces: Critical Readings of Sexual Poetics in Whitman
The Intra-active Kosmos: Disembodying the Human, Re-inscribing Nature
Consummate with Nature: Human-Nonhuman Sexual Intra-activity
7. The Swamps of Emily Dickinson
The Values of Nature: Caring for the Environment
8. An Ecological Manifest Destiny: Nature and Nation in Freneau’s Poetry
Benjamin Darrell Crawford
9. John James Audubon: From Proto-Ecological Sensibility to Conservation Ethics
The Roots of Audubon’s Proto-Ecological Sensibility
The Development of Audubon’s Environmental Ethics
Constructing a Conservationist Identity
10. Recovering John Muir’s Wild Gardens
Historical and Literary Context
Guardians or Gardeners
Steven Petersheim is assistant professor of English at Indiana University East. Madison P. Jones IV is founder and editor-in-chief of Kudzu House Quarterly, a literary and scholarly journal devoted to ecological thought.
"Published some 15 years after the groundbreaking Beyond Nature Writing: Expanding the Boundaries of Ecocriticism, ed. by Karla Armbruster and Kathleen Wallace – which examined several genres of writing produced over nearly three millennia – the present volume homes in on prose and poetry of the US's long 19th century. During this period, the 11 essayists remind readers, the US was expanding geographically even as it focused back on itself to shape and claim a national identity; these tensions between outward and inward overlapped with tensions between nature and culture. These essays address authors whose struggles with these tensions were overt (Thoreau, Susan Fenimore Cooper, Audubon, Muir), along with authors not generally considered nature writers (Emily Dickinson, Margaret Fuller). One of the refreshing messages that weaves through this collection should not be startling, but is: when writers like Hawthorne and Melville set a character in nature, the landscape should be read as landscape rather than as psychology or symbol. Whereas many analyses of prose suffer from unreadable jargon, these essays – particularly Christopher Sloman's on Charles Brockden Brown and Li-Ru Lu's on Audubon – are a pleasure to read. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers."