In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

D.G. Charlton. New Images of the Natural in France: A Study of European Cultural History, 1750-1800 Cambridge University Press '984. ix, 254· $49·50, $').95 paper D.G. Charlton has undertaken an ambitious project in this book: an attempt to trace, over the course of a half-century, both the changing perceptions of the natural and the new ways in which people (or, more precisely, a certain educated elite) conceived of the relationship between man and the natural. The focus of attention is France, but a number of comparisons with the situation in England and Germany fill out the picture and remind the reader that the phenomenon being studied needs to be placed in a European context, even though the chronology of its stages of development varies from country to country. (As Charlton shows, in most areas apart from the sciences, France lagged behind.) The author is well aware of the difficulties and dangers inherent in 'an attempt at cultural history viewed through a telescope' (p viii), and he acknowledges that he is obliged to choose only a certain number of representative cases to illustrate a complex development. Itis greatly to his credit that the examples are so well chosen and the argum~nt so convincing. Charlton's work differs significantly from previous studies of this general subject. On the one hand, he sets aside abstract philosophical texts which can be analysed for the 'idea of nature' which they present (the sort of analysis carried out by Ehrard for the first half of the century); and on tlle other hand, he casts a much wider net than, say, Mornet, since the'natural' wl:iich he considers goes beyond external nature and the eighteenth century's response to it. External nature is, though, of great importance, and after establishing the general framework of his inquiry (chapter 1: 'Contrasts'), Charlton traces a growing interest in and sensitivity towards gentle then progressively harsher manifestations of nature; the journey takes us from 'Pastoral Landscapes' (chapter 2) to fonns of 'Wild Sublimity' (chapter 3). The examination of the natural sciences (chapter 4) neatly summarizes three interrelated developments which bear on the topic under study: the massive increase in data provided by expanded scientific observation, the replacement of the mechanistic view with a new organicism, and a radical rethinking of the concept of time as it applies to duration and change in the natural world. Chapters 5-9 (dealing with, respectively: attitudes towards death and destruction; the effects of increased exploration, particularly voyages to the Pacific; the conception of the family and of the child's place in the family unit; the view of woman's nature; and the opposition between city life and rural life) give the discussion a sociological perspective. Throughout the book, Charlton establishes parallels among the various areas which he studies, showing the way in which each may be seen as a facet of a general cultural phenomenon. Of particular interest is his HUMANITIES 137 identification of a recurring tension (but not, it appears, antithesis) in the minds of those studied between the natural and man's modifications of nature: 'the ideal for them, at bottom, lay in a marriage of nature and culture ... for all their innovative desires, they remained in favour of compromise' (pp 214-15). Such a conclusion might seem slightly clisappointing or anticlimactic, yet Charlton's book is very successful in showing the reader the genuinely'new images' which evolved in the later eighteenth century and the'questioning of hitherto largely-assumed and generally-accepted evaluations of both the world around us and the natural ... within us' (p 216). A final chapter ('Unfinished Business') pOints to a number of areas that might usefully be examined to complement the account which Charlton has provided. In addition, he succinctly relates the questions raised in his study to later developments both during the Romantic period and in the present day. A series of dense bibliographical essays rounds off this valuable work. (LAWRENCE KERSLAKE) Christie V. McDonald. The Dialogue of Writing: Essays in Eighteenth-Century Literature Library of the Canadian Review ofComparative Literature 7· Wilfrid Laurier University Press 1984. xviii, "09. $12.95 This book consists mainly of a series...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 136-137
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.