Novel Cultivations: Plants in British Literature of the Global Nineteenth Century by Elizabeth Hope Chang
In positioning ‘plants as the transitory location between realism and fantasy within British fiction’ (p. 3), Elizabeth Hope Chang’s insight into the role of plants as subjects in diasporic Victorian ecologies sheds new light on the nineteenth century through a brilliant employment of contemporary ecocriticism. In Novel Cultivations: Plants in British Literature of the Global Nineteenth Century, Chang encourages us to regard plants as active participants in the narratives in which they appear, personifying them as subjects through their role in the creation of the naturalised globality of ‘English nature’ in Victorian Britain (p. 1; p. 10). Incorporating the object-oriented philosophy of Timothy Morton and work on thing theory by Elaine Freedgood, Jonathan Lamb, and John Plotz, Chang deftly examines the colonial realities of the act of cultivation itself through the floral landscapes of various Victorian fictional texts. Arguing that the naturalisation of exotic flora in Britain parallels the colonisation and assimilation of commodities, people, and culture by the British Empire, Chang invites us to view plants in Victorian fiction as ‘living things fostered by human intelligence’ that act as ‘mediators between nature and culture’ and form a ‘constitutive part of the local in the British genre novel’ (pp. 20-21). Often drawing from work by plant historians and making a clear distinction between ‘botany, horticulture, and agriculture,’ Chang effectively draws readers to the crux of her argument: that plants are agents in their own right and acknowledging them as such in Victorian fiction moves the field beyond the Anthropocene. Foregrounding the importance of global trade to the British Victorian literary culture, Chang’s study seeks to offer new understandings of how diasporic plants were treated in an era that was both a site of ‘science and a site of metaphysical speculation’ (p. 181).