Frankenstein (1818)

Mary Shelley ed. Marilyn Butler (Oxford, 1993)

Mary Shelley, FrankensteinRecommended by Jimmy Packham

Mary Shelley’s ubiquitous novel might seem like an obvious choice: “not this one again!” But I want to use this novel to gesture towards what I think is one of the most exciting – and what I believe is currently one of the most urgent – strands of landscape and environmental thinking: the ecogothic. Frankenstein straddles the Romantic and gothic traditions, and nowhere more so than in its portrait of the various (the myriad!) landscapes through which Victor and his creation travel. As a representative ecogothic text, the novel departs from the vision of nature generally associated with conventional Romanticism, and asks us to see nature as strange and estranging, unfamiliar and disquieting. More than this, however, this is a book that wants us to think ethically about our engagement with the natural world: the creature (himself a horrifying amalgam of nature and culture) works hard to establish a compassionate ethics, rooted in his experiences of nature and animal life. Frankenstein also reminds us how natural the apparently unnatural monsters that haunt our horror stories truly are: from The Odyssey and Beowulf, through Frankenstein, to more recent fare like Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation (2014) and the Godzilla franchise (1954-present). Indeed, in Godzilla I think we have a contemporary creature that rivals Frankenstein’s monster as the most compelling modern myth to illuminate humanity’s ambivalent relationship with the natural world: Godzilla returns to us at moments of ecological and global crisis, to restore a kind of harmony to the natural world, but does so while wreaking terrible destruction on human civilisation.

The Poetry of Clare, Hopkins, Thomas, and Gurney: Lyric Individualism

Andrew Hodgson (Basingstoke, 2020)

Andrew Hodgson, The Poetry of Clare, Hopkins, Thomas, and Gurney: Lyric IndividualismRecommended by Jessica Fay

This book will be of interest to anyone who enjoys attending closely to the intricate methods poets use to express what they perceive and how they perceive it. We all see the world in different ways, observing different things, and our sense of identity and sense of home is channelled through those unique experiences. Subjective encounters with specific places, local events, and minute aspects of nature are at the centre of Romantic poetics. But while the aim of Wordsworth’s self-consciousness, for example, is to discover and communicate universal truths, this book shows—through a series of close readings—how four poets struggled with and against language, syntax, and form to achieve extreme lyric integrity, communicating the singularity of their embodied perception of the world for its own sake. Clare, Hopkins, Thomas, and Gurney emerge as proponents of a newly isolated and intricately defined poetic style that will nuance thinking about the spectrum of approaches to lyric subjectivity traceable within the Romantic tradition.

The White Doe of Rylstone: Or, The Fate of the Nortons (1815)

William Wordsworth ed. Kristine Dugas (Ithaca and London, 1988)

The White Doe of Rylstone: Or, The Fate of the Nortons (1815) by William WordsworthRecommended by Jessica Fay

This narrative poem was written by Wordsworth in 1807 but withheld from the press until 1815 because of fears it wouldn’t be well received. And it wasn’t. It’s an austere poem that tricks the reader into expecting an exciting romance narrative of the kind at which Walter Scott excelled, only to disappoint those expectations when nothing much happens. It tells the story of the Norton family during the Rising of the North, a Roman Catholic rebellion aimed at dethroning Elizabeth I, but Wordsworth refuses to describe combat scenes and the most violent act performed by the rebels comprises treading on a Bible and saying Mass. Instead, the emphasis is on Norton’s Protestant daughter, Emily, who waits in the medieval garden at Rylstone Hall to hear news that her father and brothers have been killed. In her grief, Emily is comforted by the companionship of a milk-white doe, which continues to visit her grave in the churchyard at Bolton Abbey for many years afterwards. The garden and the churchyard are presented by Wordsworth as places enriched by the fact that they have witnessed centuries of human pain—from the medieval period through to the early nineteenth century—but for that reason, these are also places enriched by hope. This little-read Wordsworth poem gets to the root of his thinking about the consolation that can be gained from quietude, openness to lessons of sympathy from the animal world, and deep connections between people and the places in which they suffer and overcome that suffering.

Andrew Hodgson

Andrew Hodgson

Andrew Hodgson

Lecturer in Romanticism at the University of Birmingham

My research focuses on poets and poetry, largely from the Romantic period onwards. I have written a book, Lyric Individualism (Palgrave, 2020), about four lyric poets – John Clare, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Edward Thomas, and Ivor Gurney – each of whom finds subtle and affecting ways of conveying a sense of place and the significance of home in their writing. My next project is a new edition of the correspondence of Percy Bysshe Shelley: Shelley’s letters breathe an imaginative apprehension of the natural spirit and cultural inheritance of the places across Europe from which they were written.

Local Attachments

Fiona StaffordFiona Stafford - Local Attachments (Oxford, 2010)

Recommended by Alexandra Harris

One of the many remarkable things that happened towards the end of the eighteenth century was that local feeling and the life of particular places became great literary subjects. You wouldn’t expect to find a Jacobean poet writing about the River Duddon (unless perhaps it was a symbol of national prosperity), but of Wordsworth you would expect nothing less. Paying close attention to the changing cultural status of local particularity, Stafford asks how and why this came about, and how Romantic writers, poem by poem, made places matter.

Read the introduction on the OUP website