English 166

Special Topics: Green Thought in a Green Shade

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
8 Fall 2019 Turner, James Grantham
TTh 2-3:30 220 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

ALL MATERIALS DOWNLOADABLE, to be printed out by individual students as needed 


The natural world and the non-urban environment have inspired writers and artists, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, but they have also provoked intense critical debate, from the “politics of landscape” in the 1970s to ecological readings of literature now. Interpreters are torn between worshipful appreciation of the beauty and deep suspicion of the “ideology of Nature” – what makes it natural? Whose interests does it serve? What does it leave out? The main focus of this course will be the dream worlds created by poets: the Garden of Eden, the pastoral Golden Age, the ideal Classical landscape, the formal garden, the country estate, the “natural” wilderness. But we will also look behind the scenes, at the economic realities of farming and country life, and the early history of problems that are still with us (pollution, destructive technology). Most of our readings will come from English literature of the period – from Marvell*, Milton and Margaret Cavendish to Pope and some early Romantics – but I will bring in comparisons from painting, sculpture and landscape architecture. We will also sample critical writings on “the Country and the City” and the ecological approach to literature. All materials will be curated by me and available for downloading from bCourses.

In the last weeks, after we have finished the readings on the syllabus, students will select a work of environmental art or literature (from any period) and present their own interpretation to the class, showing how the readings encountered in this Special Topics course have enhanced their understanding of it. These individual presentations may be submitted instead of a final exam.

This section of English 166 satisfies the pre-1800 requirement for the English major.

*Title of the course comes from Andrew Marvell, “The Garden”

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