Greenhouse Romanticism

Autumn 2016-2017


Heather Keenleyside

This course takes its title, and its guiding premise, from Deidre Lynch’s marvelous 2010 article, which suggests that received notions of “green romanticism”—the familiar idea that the romantic era was a foundational moment in the history of ecological consciousness—“might benefit from some pondering of greenhouse romanticism.” Lynch coins this phrase to register the plurality and portability nature to which colonial natural history gave rise, as well as the proximity of this nature (natures) to the artifice, or simply cultivation, of culture. The notion of “greenhouse romanticism,” then, means to “disallow” common polarities: between the organic and the cultural, genuine Nature and figurative language, as well as between the domestic and the exotic, growth and fabrication. It also brings gender and sexuality to the fore of questions about nature, normativity, and development. This class will explore the possibilities for thinking “greenhouse romanticism” in and out of a range of late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century texts, likely to include poetry by James Thomson, William Cowper, Erasmus Darwin, Anna Seward, Anna Barbauld, Charlotte Smith, and William Wordsworth; novels by Maria Edgeworth, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Jane Austen; and selections from contemporary natural histories, gardening manuals, aesthetic treatises, political polemics, and juvenile fiction. They will be supplemented by secondary readings in the history of sexuality, science, and imperialism, as well as eco-criticism. (18th/19th)