American Literature and the Environment

Professor: Barton St. Armand
Institution: Brown University
Course Number: 279

Semester I, 1994
American Literature and the Environment (Graduate Seminar)
English 279

Sept. 14 – Introduction
Sept 21 – Emerson, Anthology, pp. 1-193 – “Gaia”
Sept. 28 – Anthology, pp. 193-379 – “Ecofeminism”
Oct. 5 –  Bartram, Anthology, pp. 383-621 – “Bioregionalism” and”
Deep Ecology”
Oct. 12 – Irving, Anthology, pp. 623-841
Oct. 19 – Parkman – Slide 1ecture; paper due
Oct. 26 – Walden, Anthology, pp. 845-1047
Nov. 2 – Cape Cod, Anthology, pp. 1272-1519
Nov. 9 – Thoreau, Essays, Anthology, pp. 1520-1709
Nov. 16 – Abbey, Anthology, pp. 1710-1927
Nov. 29 – Dillard, Anthology, pp. 1934-2038
Dec. 7 – Lopez – Library exhibit

Book List

Note: These books are all paperback editions

1. James E. Miller, ed. Heritage of American Literature I: Beginnings. HBJ 0155356976
2. William Bartram, Travels. Dover 0486200132
3. Washington Irving, The Sketch Book. Penguin 0451524950
4. Thoreau, Cape Cod. Penguin 014170022
5. Thoreau, The Maine Woods. Harper Collins 0060914041
6. Thoreau, Natural History Essays. Gibbs-Smith 0879052988
7. Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Harper and Row 0060915455
8. Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire. Random House 0345326490
9. Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams. Bantam 055326396x
10. Francis Parkman, The Oregon Trail. Penguin /Signet 0451520742

First Paper Assignment

Much of Thoreau’s life he sought for “the primitive” both in Nature and in human nature. His quest, using the genres of natural history and personal narrative, was for an irreducible and primal material base that would convert myth into reality, and reverse the romantic process by making thecontemporary into the fabulous. Hence his interest in Native Americans as a survival of this primitivism, and in what might be called the ” Ur-Man,” a ” Great Friend” who would provide companionship, instruction, and communion — what Emerson in ” Nature” called ” an original relation with nature,” with wild and regenerative forces.

But what happens to the link between the human and the natural in The Maine Woods, where Thoreau confronts actual Indians and a type of nature very different from the domesticated one of Concord and Walden Pond? Take one chapter of this work, and focus on a particular passage in that chapter that you believe is representative of Thoreau’s changed or changing perception of what the poet Longfellow called ” the forest primeval/ The murmuring pines and the hemlocks.”

Analyze this passage closely, and relate it to earlier characterizations of American nature as Eden, Canaan, or Gothic haunted wasteland (you can use selections from the Puritans, Bartram, etc.– anything that provides a striking comparison or contrast). How does Thoreau reconcile his vision of the mountains and forests of Maine with one of these three types or tropes of nature in America? And how does this confrontation with the Maine woods confirm or unsettle his own Transcendentalist and spiritual quest for “correspondences” between human consciousness and the primitive? How is this Thoreauvian primitive constructed, deconstructed, or metamorphosed?

Write a seven page paper on this topic, making sure that your essay is typed or word-processed, closely argued, and carefully proofread. Please hand it in to the English department secretary on the agreed-upon due date.

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