- Gendered Ecologies: New Materialist Interpretations of Women Writers in the Long Nineteenth Century ed. by Dewey W. Hall and Jillmarie Murphy
Clemson: Clemson UP; Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2020. Pp. 256. $120.
Editors Dewey W. Hall and Jillmarie Murphy bring strong credentials in ecocriticism to this project. Hall (English, California State Polytechnic, Pomona) has previously published Romantic Naturalists, Early Environmentalists (Routledge, 2012) as well as edited two collections, Romantic Ecocriticism: Origins and Legacies (Lexington Books, 2016) and Victorian Ecocriticism: The Politics of Place and Early Environmental Justice (Lexington Books, 2017). Murphy (English, Union College) has published extensively in American literature, often employing ecocritical approaches. Her most recent monograph is Attachment, Place, and Otherness in Nineteenth-Century American Literature: New Materialist Representations (Routledge, 2018). The editors' previous work helps set the stage for the present volume's transatlantic approach to ecocritical studies. [End Page 232]
The volume includes ten essays, divided evenly between five devoted to British authors and five focusing on American writers. As the title indicates, all of the essays focus on the work of women writers from the "long nineteenth century" although most of the works under analysis fall squarely within the nineteenth century. Elif S. Armbruster's essay on Laura Ingalls's Little House Books, which were published in the 1930s and '40s, but set in the nineteenth century, provides an obvious exception.
Notable features of the collection are the foreword by Stacy Alaimo and the afterword by Jane Bennet, both of which offer valuable generalizations about the significance of the work as a whole. The work of these two theorists, along with the work of Karen Barad, offer an insight into the theoretical foundations of most of the essays in the collection. In their introduction, Hall and Murphy offer helpful background on recent trends in contemporary ecocriticism and provide a brief background on the significance of Alaimo, Bennet, and Barad on contemporary ecocritical thought and on their project.
In various forms, materialism has been a mainstay of philosophy for centuries. In recent years, through the work of the theorists named above, along with others, materialism has been utilized in sociology, political science, and literature. As formulated by recent theorists, the "new materialism" reduces humans, nonhumans, as well as animate and inanimate entities to their material forms. Matter thus becomes a common denominator that links all of these entities. The new materialism attempts to take into account the entanglement of these elements and allows for intra-action or trans-corporeal connections of these elements in a network of relations not unrelated to the study of ecology. Ultimately, the essays in this volume explore the ways that ecocriticism—and most particularly ecofeminism—make use of the concept of materiality.
A few representative essays highlight the various ways that contributors make use of the new materialism. In the section on British writers, Heather Braun offers an analysis of the ways in which the metaphor of the "bower," frequently used by a range of male writers, changes dramatically when utilized by women poets. Her main example is Caroline Norton. In a related essay, Louise Willis examines the way in which Charlotte Brontë imagines gardens as a place where Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe might enjoy moments of freedom while still remaining within a protected domestic space. In another example, Adrian Tait explores the concept of "manifold ecologies" in Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret. Tait considers Lady Audley's multiple identities as examples of trans-corporeal intra-actions.
In the section devoted to American writers and texts, Elif S. Armbruster explores the contrasts Laura Ingalls establishes between open spaces and human structures in the Little House Books. Armbruster argues that Ingalls uses these contrasts to emphasize the interrelations between humans and nonhumans [End Page 233] within this environment. In another example, John J. Kucich focuses on the work of Jane Johnson Schoolcraft and Margaret Fuller to examine the significance of place and the competing human voices that seek to define the environment of the Great Lakes. In a final example, Elisabeth West presents...