The Wilds of Literature

Nowadays, when we think about the interaction between human beings and nature, we tend to focus on environmental damage: deforestation, pollution, climate change and the catastrophes to which it has contributed. In this course, however, we will be reading Anglo-American literature that represents the interaction between humans and the natural world as joyous, sublime, revelatory, and mutually sustaining. We will traverse the Alps with William Wordsworth, immerse ourselves in Walden Pond with Henry David Thoreau, and rove the Yorkshire moors with Frances Hodgson Burnett. We will listen to African-American poets and Jewish tunesmiths “sing America” and read breathtakingly beautiful short stories and nature writing about plants and animals, hiking and fishing, the earth, the ocean, and the sky. Without denying that human beings have damaged the world we inhabit, and that certain groups of people have been systematically barred from enjoying equal access to its beauties and bounty, we will focus on the role that pleasure, resilience, wonder, and hope might play in helping us to envision new modes of engagement with each other and an ever-changing environment.