Speaking for Nature: Women and Ecologies of Early Modern England

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JHU Press, May 24, 2004 - Literary Criticism - 287 pages
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According to the tenets of ecofeminism, there are explicit connections between society's treatment of women and the degradation of our environment, connections made apparent in the patriarchal devaluation of both women and nature. In Speaking for Nature, a groundbreaking inquiry into the contributions of early modern English women writers to ecological thought, Sylvia Bowerbank uncovers the historical roots of contemporary debates within ecofeminism as found in the works of such major literary figures as Mary Wroth, Margaret Cavendish, and Mary Wollstonecraft.

In early modern England, the entry of women into the politics of nature occurred during a volatile period when the cultural meaning of nature was being destabilized by scientific advances and religious controversies, thus opening up new rights, roles, and responsibilities for women. For the two centuries covered in this book, Bowerbank describes a range of choices made by literary women in negotiating their place within the broader discourse on nature and humanity's changing relationship to it. We learn about Wroth's gendered critique of pastoral fantasies and green utopias, Cavendish's resistance to the philosophy that declared "Great Nature" dead, and Wollstonecraft's opposition to both world capitalism and local subsistence. Anna Seward champions the local as a site of environmental well-being and the eighteenth-century invention of "the study of nature" as a legitimate field of intellectual inquiry. Speaking for Nature explores this rich, diverse, and often contradictory legacy of ecological thought, the value of which is only just being appreciated and evaluated by present-day environmentalists and feminists.


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Page 12 - But as both heaven and earth do conspire and contribute to the use and benefit of man; so the end ought to be, from both philosophies to separate and reject vain speculations, and whatsoever is empty and void, and to preserve and augment whatsoever is solid and fruitful...
Page 7 - ... blend themselves by disordered and confused mixture, the winds breathe out their last gasp, the clouds yield no rain, the earth be defeated of heavenly influence, the fruits of the earth pine away as children at the withered breasts of their mother no longer able to yield them relief; what would become of man himself, whom these things now do all serve ? See we not plainly that obedience of creatures unto the law of nature is the stay of the whole world...
Page 15 - A forest is a certain territory of woody grounds and fruitful pastures privileged for wild beasts and fowls of forest, chase and warren, to rest and abide in, in the safe protection of the King, for his princely delight and pleasure...
Page 7 - Now, if nature should intermit her course, and leave altogether, though it were but for a while, the observation of her own laws; if those principal and mother elements of the world, whereof all things in this lower world are made, should lose the qualities which now they have ; if the frame of that heavenly arch erected over our heads should loosen and dissolve itself ; if celestial spheres should forget their wonted motions...
Page 1 - He says that woman speaks with nature. That she hears voices from under the earth. That wind blows in her ears and trees whisper to her. That the dead sing through her mouth and the cries of infants are clear to her.

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About the author (2004)

Sylvia Bowerbank is a professor of English at McMaster University.