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The Politics of Nature cancelled

ENGL 250.301
MW 3:30-5

Romantic literature has long been known for its celebration of nature--and its authors are equally famous for their radical politics. What exactly do these two faces of romanticism have to do with each other? In this seminar we'll explore how authors from the 1780s to the 1830s represented nature, and the political and social ends they sought to achieve by doing so. Nature was by no means a unitary idea, even for individual authors, so we'll first take stock of the diverse "natures" circulating in the period, including aesthetic categories of the sublime and the beautiful, scientific models of taxonomy, organicism and materialism, and religious and philosophical ideas of benevolent or mechanistic nature. We'll then delve into poetry and prose that explicitly joins representations of nature to a political agenda, such as John Thelwall's The Peripatetic or Samuel Coleridge's "Fears in Solitude." After seeing nature at it most political, we'll move into literature that takes a more ambiguous stance on the connection and raises questions that remain relevant today: Can natural beauty serve as an antidote to war, social injustice or oppression? What are the consequences of setting the natural world in opposition to the social and political one? Can nature rescue humanity, or is nature itself in need of saving? Readings will include poetry, fiction and prose by Jean Jacques Rousseau, Erasmus Darwin, William Wordsworth, George Gordon Byron, William Bartram, Charlotte Smith, Percy Shelley, and John Claire; to extend our view of how nature was perceived and represented in the period we'll also discuss paintings and engravings by Charles Wilson Peale, Joseph William Turner, and William Blake. Requirements: reading responses, two short essays, one longer seminar paper, and lively participation in class discussions.