Date of Award
College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, English and Literary Arts
Creative writing, Poetry
My dissertation examines the ways in which American Victorian flora and garden culture and the amateur botany movement influenced and circumscribed American poetry by women from the late Transcendental period to the paleo-Modern period. Delineating an ecofeminist tradition, as well as human and feminist geography, I interrogate the ways in which women, plants, botanical study, and poetics by women were “othered” and delegitimized from the nineteenth century and beyond. Social, religious, and scientific systems associated with plants and gardens contributed to the development of an American poetic aesthetic. Sentimental flower language guides originating in France, a western cultural proclivity to pit garden against undiscovered wilderness and align it with the Protestant Cult of True Womanhood, and a need for thousands of new species of plants to be classified in a “New World,” (amateur botanizers in the field contributing to a shared network linking them with professional scientists), all contributed to the mainstay of plant culture in America during this time. These social as well as religious—usually Protestant—systems interpreted botany as an appropriate science for women, yet at the same time developments in science from the Enlightenment to the birth of evolutionary biology often conflicted with the cultural Victorian rhetoric of plants. Naturalist writings by women and botany textbooks used in female seminaries and lower schools, also indoctrinated by True Womanhood and natural theology, assisted in informing poetry by women. I examine the ways in which women wrote against and within such indoctrinating systems by studying the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and H.D. I consider the poetry of these major figures as ostensibly subscribing to Victorian plant and flower culture, but also as acts of resistance. The poetry possessed revolutionary content and themes, such as the privileging of biocentric ideals (as opposed to androcentric ideals), the reliance on science-centered research, and the use of an anti-Romantic tone. The poetry also possessed subversive formal maneuvers, such as the rejection of traditional, masculinist Victorian forms, and the use of inclusive polyvocal poetic language—which I define as multi-disciplinary language systems and fields of study coexisting in one body of work.
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Received from author
Kugel-Merkner, Molly, "“The Smallest Housewife in the Grass”: Women, Poetry, and American Botanical Culture" (2019). Restricted Access ETDs. 64.