Manly Natures: Masculinity and Environment in American Literature, 1782-1806
AuthorBishop, James Edward
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This project calls for a re-examination of the relationship between cultural constructions of masculinity and representations of the natural world. Focusing on the years around the time of the American Revolution, this study contends that the ways that male authors have written about "manliness" and about nature are fraught with more anxiety and uncertainty than previous scholarship on the subject has acknowledged. Utilizing close readings of the works of William Bartram, Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, I show that these texts, rather than representing monolithic views of masculinity and nature, tend to be characterized by ambivalences and contradictions, often within the same chapter and within the same character or narrative persona. Crèvecoeur, for instance, writes that the frontier must be cleared and tamed in order to make way for farmers, but he also expresses deep uncertainty about this civilizational project and nostalgia for the masculinity embodied by Native Americans and frontiersmen. At the same time that the roots of our contemporary environmental crisis can be seen in representations of masculinity during the early years of the American republic, I argue, sustainable models of human engagement with nature can be also found within the same texts, frequently alongside notions of gender that constitute alternatives to the dominant ideologies of the time.