“Much improved of late”: ecogothic readings of improvement in American and British novels, 1798-1852

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Bryan McMillan (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Karen Kilcup

Abstract: Until recent years ecocriticism has focused almost exclusively on nature-centered texts, heralding Henry David Thoreau’s Walden as its urtext. As scholars are broadening the field’s canonical and theoretical range, they are now recognizing Gothicism’s long-held concerns about ecology, and they have termed this new area of critical inquiry the ecogothic. Framing the ecogothic as a critical lens rather than a literary mode, this dissertation broadens the ecocritical range by considering how writers use Gothicism to contest environmentally harmful ideologies. It expands this subfield by examining what I define as principal characteristics of the Gothicization of nature—deformity, isolation, transgression, and sterility—and explores how this representation enables texts to challenge widely held improvement discourses. Specifically, it argues that from the late eighteenth through the mid-nineteenth century, Gothic texts deploy these characteristics to combat the idea of improvement, illustrating the devastating ecological and societal effects of its reliance on the nature-culture binary. This transnational dissertation considers four novels that represent improvement as catalyzing ruin. Wieland illuminates the culturally dysfunctional entanglement of women and nature and employs that link to criticize improved spaces as sites of early American patriarchal violence. Frankenstein demonstrates improvement’s negative consequences, and, deploying the nonbinary Creature, the novel challenges the improvement norm’s reliance on the nature-culture dichotomy. Jane Eyre depicts Jane as an object of improvement and demonstrates how such an emphasis continually fails her, meanwhile suggesting the ruinous effects of rejecting improvement outright. And The House of the Seven Gables emphasizes (female) Nature as culture’s improver to criticize the divisive binaries that uphold the idea of improvement. “Much improved of late” contributes to ecocriticism by considering how Gothicism enables writers to question and combat exploitive human engagements with the natural environment.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2020
Ecogothic, Frankenstein, Improvement, Jane Eyre, The House of the Seven Gables, Wieland
Gothic fiction (Literary genre) $x History and criticism
Nature in literature

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