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This article examines the prevalence and legacy of EcoGothic themes in landscape descriptions in fiction and poetry of the US Great Plains, including the recurring theme of prairie madness. Drawing on critical approaches that examine unsettling aspects of landscape description through the lenses of the anthropocene and the settler-colonial imaginary, I focus particularly on the authors’ attention to features of the Plains environment that destabilize non-Native settlers’ sense of place and control.
From late nineteenth-century works of fiction to twentieth- and twenty-first century poems and even films, my analysis traces the lasting influence of an environmental awareness that goes beyond enlisting the prairie as a haunted or haunting place in the usual Gothic sense. Rather, what unsettles about many of these descriptions is, I propose, the author’s recognition of a clear power and agency of the landscape itself, existing independently of all human agency, exerting its influence over the characters, and ultimately defying attempts to capture its essence in words.