Literature and the Ecological Imagination: Richard Jefferies and D. H. Lawrence

Issue: Vol 3, No 1: Special Bulletin
Pages: 51-63
Author(s): Rebecca Welshman (University of Exeter)
Citation: http://www.victoriannetwork.org/index.php/vn/article/view/20

Abstract

This paper suggests that early twentieth-century representations of the pastoral were informed by late nineteenth-century environmentalism. Richard Jefferies, Victorian author and journalist, was one of the earliest proponents of an ecological movement that warned against humans losing connection with nature. Jefferies' spiritual autobiography, The Story of my Heart, published in 1883, attempted to defy the passive response to late-Victorian ecological ignorance and boldly anticipated the more dynamic literary forms of the Modernist era. Although Jefferies' expression of the relationship between the psyche and the natural world has been labelled as 'pantheistic', 'pretentious' and a 'failure', a similar strain of dramatic self-consciousness is recognisable in the work of early Modern authors. D. H. Lawrence stated that he 'didn't like' The Story of My Heart. However, close readings of passages from the autobiography, and from Jefferies' post-apocalyptic novel After London (1885) compared with close readings from Lawrence's The Rainbow (1915) highlight latent affinities between the late work of Jefferies and the work of D. H. Lawrence. These affinities include imaginative connections between the psyche and the natural world—which afforded partial consolation for the post-Romantic loss of equilibrium between man and nature, and the potential implications of ecological imbalance for the relationship between man and woman—in particular the struggle for individual identity within an increasingly industrial environment. Considering these affinities in the context of the broader literary transition between late-nineteenth century realism and the more reactionary genres of the early twentieth century, this paper concludes that continuity between late nineteenth-century environmentalism and early modernist ecological narratives afforded a more imaginative understanding of the relationship between the self and the natural world.



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