Into the forest: reading trees in nineteenth-century American literature
[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] Nineteenth-century American nature writing considers nature from the multiple perspectives of the antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction landscapes. The use of nature, and more specifically trees and woodlands, affords a clearer vision of the environment in which nineteenth century writers existed, and raises further questions about how these writers situated themselves in the natural world. An examination of the literature of industry begs the question: when did human's enchantment with the forests of the world give way to consumption and greed? Trees became the embodiment of conflict of the nineteenth century, being both generative and destructive, as well as objects of both violence and of healing. Despite the mass destruction of American woodlands and the appropriation of trees as objects of torture, a sense of awe and an underlying respect and reverence for the sylvan divine remained. While these poems and passages portray some of the differing interpretations of trees and woodlands in the nineteenth century, in Thoreau's work, they intersect. While so much attention has been given to Thoreau as a nature writer and arborist, much that is written about trees by other writers, some lesser known, has been overlooked. While I draw on many sources for background information and guidance, I found great insight in several specific scholars' works. Humans' perception of the natural world as more than a nineteenth-century commodity influenced many contemporary works of literary criticism. Immersion in these primary works helps to better situate ourselves in the world of nineteenth-century American nature writing, and to understand the myriad role that trees played in this genre.
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