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What’s that coming over the hill? A white, middle-class Englishman! A Lone Enraptured Male! From Cambridge! Here to boldly go, ‘discovering’, then quelling our harsh and lovely and sometimes difficult land with his civilised lyrical words.”
(Kathleen Jamie, “A Lone Enraptured Male”, The London Review of Books, Vol. 30 No. 5, 6 March 2008, https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v30/n05/kathleen-jamie/a-lone-enraptured-male)
The New Nature Writing is a genre of literature which has been much debated lately: Some consider it merely a publishing trend, others wonder what’s new about nature writing, with the British tradition peaking in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The term New Nature Writing was coined by Jason Cowley, who used it as the title of the 2008 issue of Granta magazine he edited, to mark the difference between the ‘old’, as in 18th/19th century Romanticist version of British nature writing (more commonly referred to as the pastoral) and more recent nature writing by authors such as Richard Mabey, Robert Macfarlane, and Kathleen Jamie. Adapting the term for his 2017 study The New Nature Writing: Rethinking Literature of Place, Jos Smith dates the emergence of this genre to the 1970s, when, “following the founding of Friends of the Earth UK in 1971, a new popular environmental movement began to spread via a fresh counterculture of activism and campaigning hitherto unheard of among the traditional conservation bodies” (4). Smith’s study focusses on the relation between literary production and environmental awareness and activism, highlighting the political dimensions of the genre. Nevertheless, he also admits that “‘British nature writing wears its title with some anxiety and discomfort” (15). As the polemical quote by Kathleen Jamie (above) shows, nature writing (both new and old), has often been accused of being dominated by white, middle-class men, ignoring issues of race, class, gender, etc, and generally being too “tame”, as one reviewer put it in an opinion piece for the New Statesman (“Death of the naturalist: why is the “new nature writing” so tame?” by Mark Cocker, 17 June 2015).
This course introduces you to two of the - by now - canonical voices of New Nature Writing, Roger Deakin and Robert Macfarlane, as well as two fresh voices, Dara McAnulty and Anita Sethi. We are going to read excerpts from Deakin’s Waterlog – A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain (1999) and Macfarlane’s The Old Ways – A Journey on Foot (2012), as well as the debut novels of McAnulty and Sethi. Dara McAnulty (born in 2004) is an environmental activist and author. He has autism and lives in Northern Ireland with his family, four of whose five members are neurodivergent. His memoir Diary of A Young Naturalist (first published 2020) won the Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing. Anita Sethi is an author and journalist from the North of England. Her memoir and travelogue I Belong Here – A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain (first published 2021) deals with her experience of racism and how she claims a place for herself in a nation that keeps asking her where she is really from. Aside from discussing these primary texts, the course will introduce you to relevant concepts in ecocriticism, Critical Disability Studies, Critical Race Studies, and Gender Studies.
The excerpts by Macfarlane and Deakin will be provided at the beginning of the semester. I strongly recommend that you start reading McAnulty’s text before the beginning of the semester.
Dara McAnulty. Diary of a Young Naturalist, Penguin, 2021.
ISBN-10: 1529109604; ISBN-13: 978-1529109603
Anita Sethi. I Belong Here – A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain. Bloomsbury, 2022.
ISBN-10: 1472983955; ISBN-13: 978-1472983954