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MERVIN NICHOLSON 'What we see we feel' : The Imaginative World of W.H. Hudson G,'eell Mallsio"s comes to mind when W.H. Hudson is mentioned. But Hudson, a man of many interests, wrote non-fiction as well as romance, combining, as H.j. Massingham says, a great variety of elements: the primitive with the man in advance of his time, the artist with the naturalist, the observer with the dreamer, the personal with the objective, the romantic with the realist, memory with spontaneity, fact with fantasy, selfexpression with self-forgetfulness, the physical with the spiritual, the animist with the visionary, and what is perhaps most striking of all, the boy with the man. 1 The opposed qualities make Hudson interesting. On the one hand, he produced books about nature, some of genuine scientific value; on the other, there is his 'romance of the tropical forest' Green Mallsions with its haunting power and uninhibited passion. Green Mansions, in the words of Galsworthy's foreword, 'symbolises the yearning of the human soul for the attainment of perfect love and beauty in this life. '2 The emphatic 'in this life' indicates that attainment is found here and now, if at all, so that there can be no contradiction between the precise observations of actual experience in the nature books and the larger-than-life saga of Rima and Mr AbeL The different elements of a writer are not mutually exclusive: they interpenetrate one another. Taking Nature in Downland as representative of Hudson's nature books, we find in it the same imaginative power giving shape and Significance to ordinary experience that later produced the wider vistas of Green Mansions. When we read Nature ill Dowl1lal1d we are not exploring the geography of the South Downs, important as their natural history is, but an imaginative world which mediates between the hills traversed by Hudson in 1899-1900 and the romance domain over which Rima presides. Hudson sees a nature transmuted by feeling and organized by imagination , resulting in a structure of images and metaphoric ideas that identifies order and meaning in experience. Nature in Downland is not a simple record: the events are selected and handled in a specific way according to an imaginative conception of life. The book is doubly interesting because it illustrates how experience gets assimilated by the tJNrvERS ITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME XLVII, NUM8ER4, SUMMER 1978 0042.0247178/0900.°3°4 $01.50/0 © UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO PRESS 1978 THE IMAGINATIVE WORLD OFW.H. HUDSON 305 creative literary imagination, and because the themes informing this work of non-fiction reappear in the larger vision of Green Mansions. As Nature in Downland and Green Mansions are very different it seems that the variety is possible only because of the same imaginative power. To quote Galsworthy again, Hudson has in fiction and non-fiction alike 'a supreme gift of disclosing not only the thing he sees but the spirit of his vision. Without apparent effort he takes you with him into a rare, free, natural world, and always you are refreshed, stimulated, enlarged, by going there." What follows is a metaphoric map of that world as it appears in Nature in Downland. I The clues to the structure of imagery in non-fiction first appear in the writer's handling of metaphor. 'The Living Garment' in chapter 3 is the surface terrain, but the metaphor implies the existence of a being identical with earth and clothed by that garment. We find such a being in Hudson's description of the sloping hills: we have the succession of shapely outlines; the vast protuberances and deep divisions between, suggestive of the most prominent and beautiful curves of the human figure, and of the 'solemn slope of mighty limbs asleep' ... a Titanic woman reclined in everlasting slumber on the earth, her loose sweet-smelling hair lying like an old-world forest over leagues of ground.4 Hudson is somewhat defensive about this being because, in the age of realism in which he writes, seeing the hills as a gigantic woman is considered merely an associative fancy. But it is more than that. It 'is rather a startlingly vivid reminder that we ourselves...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 304-322
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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