Walden and A New Home, Who'll Follow?: Recovering Eve in nineteenth-century nature writing

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Issue Date
2015-05
Authors
Wynn, Victoria Leigh
Advisor
Engber, Kimberly
Citation
Abstract

Canonization of nineteenth-century American authors often separates Caroline Kirkland's A New Home, Who'll Follow? and Henry David Thoreau's Walden into diverse literary genres. Although the authors wrote in different but popular forms during the nineteenth-century, both Kirkland's realist A New Home, Who'll Follow? and Thoreau's transcendental Walden confront issues of community, partnership, and an environmental ethic. In contrast to authors like James Fenimore Cooper who depicted the recreation of Eden on the expanding American wilderness, Kirkland and Thoreau sought out to rediscover Eden in their respective landscapes. While neither actually considers a complete return to primitivism, both endorse a return to simplicity by actively promoting a partnership with the landscape through the science of observation. For both Kirkland and Thoreau, the earth is an autonomous agent, capable of action. Their environmental partnerships are best interpreted through Carolyn Merchant's theory of the Recovery Narrative, outlined in her book Reinventing Eden: The Fate of Nature in Western Culture. Through this interpretation of natural history and culture, Kirkland and Thoreau rediscover an American Eden within the eco-feminist Recovery Narrative. Additionally, their reciprocal partnerships with the earth suggest that Kirkland's Mary Clavers and Thoreau as the protagonist in Walden represent scientific Eves within their existing Edens. Kirkland and Thoreau's recognition of a dynamic earth challenges the fixed, natural order to which many still clung during the nineteenth century. In a world governed by middle-class expectations and rules, Kirkland and Thoreau rediscover an Eden on earth and find that it is willful and independent from human law. The self-governing environments that these authors observe exemplify the changefulness of nature. If nature cannot be controlled or fixed, neither can human nature.

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Thesis (M.A.)--Wichita State University, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dept. of English
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