AuthorHillard, Thomas J.
Committee ChairKolodny, Annette
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
Abstract"Dark Nature" examines literary representations of fears of nature in American literature, from the seventeenth through the mid-nineteenth century. Critiquing some dominant trends in ecocriticism, this project fills a gap in the field by studying texts that represent nature as a threatening force. By calling attention to such representations, I identify many of the cultural sources of those anxieties about nature at different historical moments. In the process, this project reveals that there has always been a Gothic subtext in the long history of literature about nature in the United States. "Dark Nature" begins by examining representations of Puritan fears of nature in New England, looking at authors such as William Bradford, John Winthrop, and Mary Rowlandson to show how the Puritan worldview established a "pre-Gothic" way of envisioning nature. It then moves to the post-Revolutionary era, using Charles Brockden Brown's "Edgar Huntly" to describe national anxieties about American wilderness and the ways those anxieties undermined contemporary Enlightenment ideals. The third chapter looks at the "darkness" within the work of that most canonical of nature writers, Henry David Thoreau. Despite the optimism of his Transcendental view of nature, I reveal that Thoreau's writing is often pervaded by moments of anxiety and even fear of the natural world. A further chapter about slave narratives shows how Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs present nature as darker than anything their romantic contemporaries produced, often consciously employing Gothic nature imagery as a rhetorical tool of resistance against their white oppressors. Finally, this study concludes with by exploring how some of Herman Melville's writing exemplifies a changing worldview in light of Charles Darwin's theories about natural selection and survival of the fittest. After the mid-nineteenth century, Gothic representations of nature tend to signal different types of fears based no longer on Puritan conceptions of nature, but rather on a post-Darwinian view. In calling attention to this overlooked lineage of writing, "Dark Nature" helps widen the discourse of ecocritical studies, arguing that there is much to be learned from studying representations of nature that are not only un-Romantic, but outright dangerous, violent, and terrifying.