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Natures in Translation

, 416 pages

12 halftones

December 2016



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Natures in Translation

Romanticism and Colonial Natural History


For many critics, Romanticism is synonymous with nature writing, for representations of the natural world appear during this period with a freshness, concreteness, depth, and intensity that have rarely been equaled. Why did nature matter so much to writers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries? And how did it play such an important role in their understanding of themselves and the world?

In Natures in Translation, Alan Bewell argues that there is no Nature in the singular, only natures that have undergone transformation through time and across space. He examines how writers—as disparate as Erasmus and Charles Darwin, Joseph Banks, Gilbert White, William Bartram, William Wordsworth, John Clare, and Mary Shelley—understood a world in which natures were traveling and resettling the globe like never before. Bewell presents British natural history as a translational activity aimed at globalizing local natures by making them mobile, exchangeable, comparable, and representable.

Bewell explores how colonial writers, in the period leading up to the formulation of evolutionary theory, responded to a world in which new natures were coming into being while others disappeared. For some of these writers, colonial natural history held the promise of ushering in a "cosmopolitan" nature in which every species, through trade and exchange, might become a true "citizen of the world." Others struggled with the question of how to live after the natures they depended upon were gone. Ultimately, Natures in Translation demonstrates that—far from being separate from the dominant concerns of British imperial culture—nature was integrally bound up with the business of empire.

Alan Bewell is a professor and the chair of the Department of English at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Wordsworth and the Enlightenment: Nature, Man, and Society in the "Experimental" Poetry and Romanticism and Colonial Disease.


"I consider this critically innovative and beautifully written book essential reading not only for scholars and enthusiasts of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literatures, but for anyone interested in gaining new insights into the literary history of environmentalism."

"This fascinating and ambitious book takes on the concept of nature, bringing together its literary and scientific senses with chapters on poetry, travel, and natural history writing. Natures in Translation is deeply interdisciplinary, uniting literary, postcolonial, and environmental studies with the history of science to create an original and very substantial contribution to the study of Romanticism."

"... highly readable account..."

"Natures in Translation offers a sorely needed commentary on how Romantic thinkers understood the environment and represents a much-needed reminder of the possibilities interdisciplinary scholarship has to illuminate our understandings of environmental history... richly illustrated and evocatively argued..."

"One of the most authoritative and absorbing studies of the year is Alan Bewell's Natures in Translation: Romanticism and Colonial Natural History"

"An impressive work of third-wave ecocriticism that takes a decisively historical approach to the politics of Romantic nature, Natures in Translation joins other important studies that have enhanced our understanding of Romantic natural history, such as Ashton Nichols’s Beyond Romantic Ecocriticism: Toward Urbanatural Roosting (2011) and Theresa M. Kelley’s Clandestine Marriage: Botany and Romantic Culture (2012)."

"Natures in Translation is timely, powerful, and unexpectedly moving."

"The book is written in an easy and enjoyable style enlivened by anecdotes from the Romantic period and topical references that make its relevance to our world today clear. The sheer range of critical, historical, political, and scientific material brought to bear is hugely impressive. The argument is persuasive, the examples used are convincing, and the whole moves to a conclusion that has been well prepared for but which is in in no way repetitive. There are also some nice moments where alternative perspectives are offered, which serve to bolster and confirm the central points. Natures in Translation is a central text for students and scholars of Romantic-period literature."

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