This chapter discusses a series of prophetic sayings attributed to figures from Britain’s past, enlisted to make claims about its future. Several collections of these prophecies circulated in early modern Britain. The most famous such compilation was The Whole Prophesie of Scotland, a collection of political poems ascribed to medieval English and Scottish prophets. Constructed during the sixteenth century and initially circulated in manuscript at the Scottish court, it was printed in 1603 to justify the claims of King James VI of Scotland to the English crown. It presented the Union of Crowns as divinely sanctioned, using prophets from England, Wales and Scotland to show that the Scottish Stewarts were legitimate heirs to England’s Tudors, and restorers of an ancient Britannic monarchy. As the widest-circulating collection of prophecies, the Whole Prophesie can be used to track attitudes towards prophecy throughout early modern Scotland. The chapter analyses the sixteenth-century genesis of the Whole Prophesie, and traces its continued and changing uses thereafter. In its repeated reprintings in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was successively adapted to support Scottish unionism, Stuart royalism, Jacobitism and even Hanoverianism. Political use of the Whole Prophesie declined after 1773, when Lord Hailes subjected it to textual analysis arguing that key passages in it were interpolations. Finally, Sir Walter Scott and his antiquarian colleagues in the early nineteenth century reinterpreted the Whole Prophesie as remnants of ‘pagan’ superstition, thus obscuring the way in which its supernatural claims had been used by the elites of earlier centuries.
Supernatural beliefs have been vital to Scottish cultural development. In the early modern period, the Kirk played an all-important role in parish life, schooling the Scots on how to interpret the invisible world. Theologians and philosophers mused about the nature of God’s providence and the wiles of the Devil. Folk tradition peopled the landscape with fairies and nature spirits. The witch trials displayed the very real consequences of belief systems that would later be reframed as fantastical. This book analyses the Scottish supernatural between about 1500 and 1800. Drawing together an international range of scholars with expertise in history, ethnology and literary studies, it explores the diverse ways in which Scots understood and experienced magical beings and extraordinary events. There are chapters on trance experiences, spirit-guides, angels, preaching on the supernatural, political prophecies, providence, astrology, Second Sight and the Enlightenment’s encounter with the paganism of classical antiquity. The book’s historical material is framed by two literary chapters: one on the ‘elrich’ supernatural in the poetry of the early sixteenth century, and one on the political supernatural in the poetry of the eighteenth century. Overall, the book examines the cultural function of supernatural beliefs, and assesses how these beliefs evolved amid the upheaval of the Reformation, political and religious revolution, the emergence of the Enlightenment and the beginnings of romanticism.
For early modern Scots, the concept of providence infused life with religious significance. Everyday experiences such as nosebleeds, hailstorms and unexpected encounters with owls were understood as special providences, acts of divine intervention. Through the notion of general providence, moreover, the entire course of history could be perceived as an expression of the divine will. Focusing on the period from 1560 to c.1800, this chapter shows how providence enlaced the natural and supernatural worlds. Uses of providence ranged from the personal to the global. Individuals often understood their lives in providential terms. Covenanting culture placed particular emphasis on recording ‘rare and remarkable passagis’, and, after the 1660 Restoration, dispossessed Presbyterians assiduously catalogued manifestations of divine favour. The concept of providence offered comfort in the face of adversity, but also meant that hardships might be interpreted as divine punishment. Long after the reinstatement of Presbyterianism in 1690, this picture of God as ‘a Smiting and a frowning Beloved’ continued to shape religious experience. The chapter concludes by showing that providence could also be viewed on a grander scale. Writers from John Knox to William Robertson situated Scottish history within a providential framework. The minister Robert Wodrow collected special providences to demonstrate that God had manifested himself ‘in poor Scotland ... as much as any where since the primitive times’. Though their ways of understanding the world and writing its history changed over the period, early modern Scots consistently found in providence a useful expository and monitory framework.
On a return to the Wilderness Garden at Powis Castle in Mid-Wales where I once lived and worked, I am absorbed by a mood through which memory is recovered from place. Writing about this experience involves field notes, memoir, dream, natural history, Blake, the paranormal, natural magic, landscape theory and object-oriented ontology. Here, the ecoGothic becomes a literary form for the conservation of this uncanny mood created within the garden and through which the observer is observed by something unseen.
In his depiction of Blackwater Park in The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins uses the Gothic to suggest that the more-than-human world is neither passive nor necessarily benign, but active in its own right. With its stifling trees and sinister lake, Blackwater Park exerts an agency all of its own. As such, it suggests a form of ecoGothic, in which human narratives are haunted by the possibility of an agential materiality. With its emphasis on the performative intra-action of matter and discourse, Karen Barad’s concept of agential realism suggests a new way in which to evaluate this Gothicised depiction. Using agential realism as a framework, this chapter discusses the nineteenth-century ‘improvement’ of parks and estates, and their subsequent neglect, a neglect which at Blackwater enables the more-than-human world to reassert itself; it returns to haunt those with whom it intra-acts. At the same time, however, the power of that world to haunt Collins’s characters reflects its subjugation, even its withdrawal, as theories of hauntology underline. Gothic tropes and forms are, in part, a manifestation of this troubling persistence of a repressed agentiality.
Charles Darwin’s botanical writings, especially his books on insectivorous species and plant fertilisation, were scientifically innovative and culturally fertile. Coinciding with the popularity of ‘sensation fiction’ in the 1860s and 1870s, these books blurred the boundary between plants and animals in uncanny ways, helping to bring the Gothic into English gardens, much as sensation fiction imported Gothic romance into the domestic realism of the British novel. The chapter examines several gardens in the sensation fiction of Mary Braddon and Wilkie Collins as well as the gardens and hothouses at Darwin’s home in Kent, where much of his botanical research was conducted.
Joseph von Eichendorff’s 1819 romantic fairy tale, The Marble Statue, with its enchanted yet threatening garden of Venus, and Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s famously enigmatic novel from 1809, Elective Affinities with its transformation of the baron’s lands into a vast English garden that results in four deaths, both portray idyllic gardens so lush and blooming as to seem almost mystical. And yet these gardens take on an ominously Gothic tone when their grounds or plant life are revealed to have startling power. If the traditional Gothic typically has gloomy castles and landscapes associated with a dark, possibly supernatural and definitely historical destiny from which we cannot escape, the ecoGothic tends in contrast to trap human beings in an uncertain status dominated by natural or ancient, physical forces. When these forces are vegetal, we can speak of the ‘Gothic green’, as we see in the narratives from Eichendorff and Goethe, who uncomfortably reintegrate the fate of human beings into natural processes and botanical energies beyond human control.
In late Victorian and Edwardian children’s literature the bottom of the garden became a space haunted by increasingly infantilised flower fairies and dominated by children’s imaginary play. In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses and Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill, children play with fairies in semi-wild garden spaces. The bottom of the garden grows into a liminal space between the domestic manicured garden and the wild landscape beyond. It acts as a heterotopia, a place outside of all places yet anchored in a physical location, in which the complex divisions between nature and the domestic, childhood and adulthood, life and death are projected. Fairy figures haunt this space, acting as uncanny spectres, manifesting a distorted vision of human life. These landscapes of childhood play increasingly transcended into a nostalgic topography, especially after World War I, in which solace from adult worries could be sought. The Cottingley fairy photographs unwittingly evoked all these themes, with Arthur Conan Doyle transforming the picturebook flower fairies into occult Theosophical nature spirits, proof of an afterlife. Fairies allow us to reenchant the natural world, seeing a miniaturised reflection of ourselves within the wildscape.
An ecoGothic reading of John Ruskin’s garden at Brantwood
John Ruskin set out to create a woodland paradise in his garden at Brantwood but was ultimately betrayed by the landscape in which he hoped to find sanctuary. His attempt to domesticate nature was subverted by weather, pollution and unheeded plant growth, his anthropocentric reading of a benign garden replaced by a disorienting vision of an inhospitable landscape where humanity was subservient to the destructive agency of nature. This ecophobic resonance parallels the dissolution of certainty in Ruskin’s reaction to materialist science; the increasing proofs became impossible to undo, and the environment seemed to be conspiring against him. Ruskin’s declining mental health was mirrored in the unfathomable failure of his gardening projects, and in the dark skies overhead, in which he recognised a diabolic ‘plague cloud’. An ecoGothic reading of Ruskin’s garden exposes the role of environmental forces in his destabilisation, and re-evaluates his garden practice through the lens of ecophobia.
This collection draws together scholarship from across fields of ecocriticism, ecoGothic, garden history, Romantic and Victorian studies and environmental humanities to explore how the garden in nineteenth-century Europe could be a place of disturbance, malevolence and haunting. Ranging from early nineteenth-century German fairy romance to early twentieth-century turbulence in children’s stories, gardens feature as containers and catalysts for emotional, spiritual and physical encounters between vegetal and human lives. The garden is considered a restorative place, yet plants are not passive: they behave in accordance with their own needs; they can ignore or engage with humankind in their own interests. In these chapters, human and vegetal agency is interpreted through ecoGothic investigation of uncanny manifestations in gardens – hauntings, psychic encounters, monstrous hybrids, fairies and ghosts – with plants, greenhouses, granges, mansions, lakes, lawns, flowerbeds and trees as agents and sites of uncanny developments, leading to disaster and death, radical life-changes, wisdom and sorrow. These Gothic garden stories illustrate our anxieties related to destruction at any level, and the chapters here provide unique insights from across the long nineteenth century into how plant life interacts uncannily with human distress and well-being.