Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This dissertation considers nineteenth and early twentieth-century American literature from an ecocritical perspective by analyzing fiction that represents interactions between people and nature in rural areas and small-towns. Reading a diverse collection of canonical and non-canonical texts that are set in geographically secluded, remote, or cut-off places in the United States, “Provincial Ecology” identifies the literary depiction of nature as central to shaping cultural ideas of individualism related to small-town distinctiveness. Like the broader concept of U.S. exceptionalism, this rhetorical (mis)treatment of nature often suggests human dominance over the natural world and, in turn, perpetuates certain harmful environmental and social practices. However, my critical examination locates the roots of environmental exploitation specifically in how isolated spaces encourage individual appreciation of nature. First, I examine how supernaturalism and gothic descriptions etherealize human anxieties about interactions between architecture and the natural world in the literary villages of Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne. I next explore how ruined buildings create a space for nature which John Pendleton Kennedy uses to naturalize the racism of plantation culture, a process that Charles W. Chesnutt subverts in his rebuke of nostalgic small-town pride. Turning to Constance Fenimore Woolson’s and Sarah Orne Jewett’s depictions of geographic remoteness, I suggest that visiting faraway places reveals a desire for communal belonging in which local environmental damage is inescapable. I conclude by examining how the progressivism of Zora Neale Hurston’s and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s coming-of-age narratives mirrors developments to the landscape. In all of these works, writers conceptualize the reality of geographic seclusion to make nature seem a feature of distinctive rural places, a process that indicates how widespread disruption of natural ecosystems begins with individual environmental appreciation.



Committee Chair

Bibler, Michael



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