- Women Poets
Work on Victorian women’s poetry from 2015 tends to focus on materiality in a variety of ways. From print culture to ecocriticism to a concern with social justice, work on women’s poetry from 2015 seems especially interested in how the poetry circulated, and how it was in conversation not only with the work of male peers, but how it participated in the social, cultural, and natural environment.
The most comprehensive treatment of women’s poetry to come out in 2015 was Fabienne Moine’s Women Poets in the Victorian Era: Cultural Practices and Nature Poetry (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2015), which offers a welcome, timely focus on a capacious subject. Moine investigates “long-standing beliefs that women shared a particular affinity with the natural world” (p. 2), with an eye to how the poetry variously both reinforces and subverts dominant ideologies about both gender and nature. Her chapters concentrate on certain elements in the natural world, “flowers, gardens, parks, pets, and birds,” because they “represent nature under control” and they “engage in politics in unexpected ways” (p. 3). Moine asserts that her concentration on elements of nature rather than on nature as a whole mirrors the women poets’ tendency to observe nature in order to understand its categories and details, over a contemplation springing from nature, or an expansive sense of self as in the Romantic poets. This focus on observation and natural history, taking nature on its own terms, can have a moral effect, though, Moine argues, increasing the capacity for empathy in the observer. Throughout, Moine notes women poets’ particular investment in the intersection between the contained nature, represented by agriculture and gardens, and the wild, represented by wildflowers, weeds, and birds. She considers a number of poems that focus on these wild elements, particularly weeds, as a way of arguing for the protection of what is devalued. In the less politically motivated poems, it’s a kind of performance of modesty, but in others, weed flowers are highlighted to democratize the value of plants.
To be commended for its breadth, the book considers “over 250 works by more than 100 women poets” (p. 11). Moine’s book will be a rich resource for those looking for newly recovered women poets and working-class poets, as well as those seeking an ecocritical approach to poets well within the canon and on its margins. Some poets featured in the book include Dora Greenwell, Isabella Southern, Eliza Cook, E. Nesbit, May Kendall, Mary Howitt, Violet [End Page 398] Fane, Dora Sigerson, Anna Knox, Emily Pfeiffer, and Mathilde Blind, just to name a few. Yet the capaciousness of this book is both its greatest virtue and its greatest flaw; its very breadth of resources undermines its ability to make a focused argument. Each chapter views its subject from a set of different and often contradictory lenses. On the one hand, this approach accounts with accuracy for the real variety in Victorian women’s poetry and in their ideas about nature. On the other hand, the book and the chapters within often lack a coherent overall argument, even if several smaller cogent analyses are to be found within them. Most importantly, Women Poets in the Victorian Era: Cultural Practices and Nature Poetry demonstrates how much work there is to be done on this subject. The time is ripe for ecocritical considerations of Victorian women’s poetry.
Patricia Murphy takes up this call in “Ecofeminist Whispers: The Interrogation of ‘Feminine Nature’ in Mathilde Blind’s Short Poetry,” Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies 11, no. 1 (Spring 2015). Murphy finds an incipient ecofeminism in Mathilde Blind’s poetry because the poems point out how nature and women have been identified with each other in order to place both in a place of submission. She reads poems such as “Entangled” and “On a Forsaken Lark’s Nest” as “cautionary tales” against this identification. While this argument is persuasive, this article is at times not fully attuned to Blind’s representation of destruction as coming from numerous quarters, from humans certainly, but also from ruthless nature itself. The will to see agriculture, for instance, as a “rape” of the land, overemphasizes...