Date of Award

2020

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English

Department

English

First Advisor

Jean Walton

Abstract

This dissertation examines landscape representation in English novels, memoirs, manifestos, and poetry between 1890 and 1939 responding to World War I and the larger dynamics of imperialism of which it is a part. Analyzing how such works reflect and reshape dominant environmental perception during the early twentieth century’s marked acceleration of mass warfare and ecological change, it reads for the way images of mud, stone, land, and soil—collected under the term base matters—express the entanglement of environmental and national structures of feeling ranging from fear to dissociation. These base matters dominate characters’ and authors’ changing perception of the material world that surrounds them—especially what one might call the “natural” environments in which they used to, but no longer, feel at home. Close readings of authors with a sense of “native” attachment to English soil include Max Plowman, Virginia Woolf, Siegfried Sassoon, Edmund Blunden, Joseph Conrad, Rebecca West, Wyndham Lewis, Nancy Cunard, and Helen Saunders. Such writers reveal the environment to primarily be a site of disconnect and alienation.

Furthermore, this environmental alienation amplifies the ethnocentric discomfort pervading English culture at the time, mirroring a sense of the “too-closeness” of colonial Others. Because of their aesthetic and affective entanglement, therefore, the environmental and ethnic national structures of feeling that pervade English modernist works surrounding this first global, imperial war of which the base matters analyzed in this study are evidence, a racialized environmental discourse emerges. This entanglement of environmental aesthetics of base materiality in racialized ethnic national ideologies of empire, then, in turn, infects English citizens’ understanding of their relationship to both local and global environments with a parallel sense of disconnect, also de-realizing ecological processes and one’s agential sense of connection to and embeddedness in an intra-active global environment. The continuation of the feedback loop created by these two mirrored discursive and affective dynamics further reinforces the entanglement of racialized and natural epistemologies, representations, structures of feeling, and public discourses as the twentieth-century marches on and the former British empire lays the foundation for our globalized Anglo-American dominated world, allowing it to contribute, this study concludes, to our own present-day struggles with both the global precarity of an anthropogenic climate crisis and the revival of violent ethnic nationalisms the world over. Neither of these dynamics can be tackled without addressing the other, just as we cannot effectively address any present and future issues without understanding the cultural history that bore us this moment.

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