Gardens, religious tradition and ecoGothic exegesis in Algernon Blackwood’s ‘The Lost Valley’ and ‘The Transfer’
Christopher M. Scott
This chapter explores Algernon Blackwood’s ‘The Lost Valley’ (1910) and ‘The Transfer’ (1912) with a specific focus on their garden spaces. Blackwood’s childhood experience within gardens seemingly colours his portrayal of them as mystical landscapes in his fiction. Employing the ecoGothic within these narrative spaces, Blackwood constructs uncanny settings that demonstrate a nexus between familiar natural spaces and unfamiliar supernatural characteristics. Despite considering himself a Buddhist during a period in his life, Blackwood was knowledgeable about Judaeo-Christian ideologies due to his strict Christian upbringing. Consequently, Judaeo-Christian iconography exists within the supernatural garden settings in his narratives, and when combined with the function of the ecoGothic, Blackwood’s supernatural garden spaces establish dread through metaphorical connections to Eden and Original Sin. Blackwood’s ‘The Lost Valley’ and ‘The Transfer’ might anticipate late twentieth-century ecotheology through their physical landscapes that rhetorically emphasize how humanity could transcend postlapsarian paranoia in a fallen world.
Victorian representations of apple trees and orchards resonate with uncanny danger that has often been overlooked when the fruit is seen as a decorative background or simple allegory of the Edenic Fall. This chapter decodes the symbolism of apples and their trees in Victorian poetry and art to arrive at a deeper understanding of this ordinary food’s Gothic symbolism. Using ecocriticism and ecoGothic to allow an exploration of the orchard as an enchanted, liminal space, the chapter considers how that enchantment seeped into depictions of garden apple trees and ultimately into the apples and their sellers on London’s streets.
Plant monsters as ecoGothic tropes; vampires and femmes fatales
Plant monster fiction has previously received little attention outside post-colonial Gothic criticism. Even more recent ecocritical explorations have predominantly focused on environmental concerns in twentieth-century eco-horror rather than on plant monsters as Gothic tropes. This chapter examines gender stereotypes through the forms of uncanny plants, blending ecocritical with Gothic interpretation. Through gender associations of nature, vampiric and man-eating plant monsters in two late Victorian Gothic short stories – by H. G. Wells and Howard R. Garis – are established as ecoGothic tropes through female Gothic and material ecofeminist theories. These uncanny exotic flowering plants are offered as eco-femmes-fatales figures that use gender to blur the boundaries of human and nonhuman through bodily transgression. As embodiments of transcorporeality, these vegetal beings are revealed as ecoGothic monsters and ecofeminist activists in masculine domains.
EcoGothic destabilises our learned habit of anthropocentric organisation, of prime importance to an ordered garden, as demonstrated in all these essays. The chapters reveal vacillation between good and evil in textual and horticultural manifestations, acknowledging Milton’s Paradise garden as a spectral presence in garden and literary history. Material ecocriticism has provided opportunities for an exciting range of critical diversity in examining affinities between material entities and human anxieties. The gardens and their interpreters here represent expressions of ecocritical uncanny, including in the ecoGothic garden all those elements of vegetal sentience, of plant ‘monster’, of spiritually alive and enchanted gardens. Of most importance here is how the vegetal agent, as initiator or co-worker with Others, disrupts order for good or ill and shakes humankind out of complacency. A chapter overview follows; topics include Ruskin’s garden at Brantwood, Algernon Blackwood’s magical trees and H. G. Wells’s monstrous orchid.
In this chapter, Tennyson’s poetry is reconfigured as an ecoGothic collection of uncanny places, disturbed humans and distorted nonhuman relationships. Tennyson’s unhappy early life and his extreme grief at the sudden death of his friend, Arthur Hallam infiltrate many of his poems, but especially those that weave human and nonhuman nature into a web of stagnation, longing or disastrous action. ‘Mariana’, In Memoriam and Maud all feature gardens that contain and create material encounters between human and vegetal, in which plants appear to cooperate with or act against human interests. Gothic echoes of indecision, instability and entrapment in emotional prisons haunt the poems, even in Tennyson’s affection for his childhood garden at Somersby. Tennyson’s sensitivity to sound and association of sense to emotional response enable him to conjure encountered vegetal-human presences and to record their absence, their haunting, ghostly residues. His poetry of sensation stems from his desire to assuage his grief within nature and to create some sense of harmony beyond human, at times occult, that refuses happy endings.
Writing in mid-nineteenth-century America, Hawthorne chose various locations at home and abroad for his richly ambiguous tales and novels. The focus here is on three of Hawthorne’s well-known ‘Gothic’ texts. Each text uses gardens and outdoor settings, from the sun-drenched Renaissance parks and gardens of Italy to the often-inclement pioneering farmlands of Massachusetts, as the venues for dramas with diabolical aspects and subversive. Hawthorne is long renowned for his allegories, but new readings are here afforded by digging deeper into his radical thought with ecocritical and posthuman theoretical tools. However, the apparently superficial symbolism of luxuriant or thwarted plants and entangled gardens represents more complex ideological challenges than are generally acknowledged or than pertain simply to Hawthorne’s (and America’s) Puritan heritage or the search for a new Eden. By bringing Donna Haraway’s recent theoretical work on what she names the ‘Chthulucene’ to bear on Hawthorne’s elusive, ambiguous, nineteenth-century tales, correlations can be found between their respective concerns and the manner in which these are ddressed. Further, China Miéville’s similar endorsement of tentacles, the ‘tentacular novum’, is brought to bear, interrogating the difference between the more conventional Gothic ‘uncanny’ and the ‘new weird’ ‘abcanny’.
Gardens and wilderness in ‘The Man who Went too Far’ by E. F. Benson and ‘The Man whom the Trees Loved’ by Algernon Blackwood
This chapter looks at un-easy and disrupted gardens in the supernatural stories ‘The Man who Went too Far’ by E. F. Benson and ‘The Man whom the Trees Loved’ by Algernon Blackwood. Both tales feature gardens that lie in the heart of the New Forest in Hampshire with the wilderness of the Forest at their borders, and each follows the fate of a man who ‘goes too far’ in his desire to become at one with Nature. At the heart of the stories lies the garden: bordered, vivid, beautiful and supposedly safe. Yet Nature in both tales does not recognise or respect human attempts at demarcation between the wild and the civilised, the nonhuman and the human. Both Benson and Blackwood break down these artificial binaries, showing the aliveness of Nature, be it roaring ‘further out’ in the wild forest or subtly (and perhaps slyly) residing in the ordered flowerbeds of the garden.
Corporate medical horror in late twentieth-century American transfer fiction
This chapter explores 1970s American literary and cinematic fantasies of institutionally mediated organ theft, in hospitals influenced by corporate and profit imperatives. Blood and tissue ‘banking’ developed rapidly during the twentieth century, and both the vocabulary and the processes were shaped by trends in neoliberal late capitalism. Through this lens, this chapter examines Robin Cook’s novel Coma (1977), Michael Crichton’s 1978 film adaptation, Robert Fiveson’s film Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979), John Hejinian’s novel Extreme Remedies (1974) and Dennis Etchison’s ‘The dead line’ (1979), and also science fictions from subsequent decades which further develop the trope of corporate transfer Gothic. These works comment on period concerns around organ procurement practices and critique a political economy that erodes compassion in healthcare. To communicate these perils, these fictions use spatial conventions characteristic of Gothic, staging their action in disorienting infrastructural spaces which seem claustrophobic and hallucinatory, through the lens of the protagonists’ vulnerabilities. These fictions also dramatise how tissue transfer can morph into finance’s intricate secondary forms including a language of mortgages, repossession, inherited debt and futures trading. The texts make visible the brutality concealed in the spectralising, deferred logics of neoliberal late capitalism.
Transnational harvest horror and racial vulnerability at the turn of the millennium
This chapter considers turn-of-the-millennium fiction and film of transnational and intra-national organ sale, in which racial inequalities characterise donor pools and access to transplant. Texts from India, the UK and North America which engage inequalities around transfer access and clinical labour, informed by legacies of colonisation and slavery. Read at a figural level, these texts also symbolise ‘slow violence’, as Rob Nixon defines it, in which time itself is a force of ruination. Works discussed include Manjula Padmanabhan’s play Harvest (1997), Stephen Frears’s film Dirty Pretty Things (2002) and four works of African-American harvest horror from the US and Canada: Charles Gardner Bowers’s short story ‘The black hand’ (1931), Dennis Etchison’s ‘The machine demands a sacrifice’ (1972), Walter Mosley’s short story ‘Whispers in the dark’ (2001) and Nalo Hopkinson’s novel Brown Girl in the Ring (1998). This chapter uses Elizabeth Povinelli’s concept of a durative present, the protracted violence of quasi-events under neoliberal regimes, to consider how fictional texts present precarity and a durative present of horror. Each site’s transfer economies differ but each text engages pre- and post-surgical durée, and each resists the exoticisation of dysfunctional transfer as distant from American or European contexts.
Medical and ethics writing of death and transplantation
This chapter explores affective and epistemological challenges posed by the novel diagnostic entities of ‘whole brain death’, ‘brain stem death’ and ‘controlled circulatory death’ as they developed within transfer milieux in the UK and US. Life support technology enabled cyborg hybridities of machine and flesh, and I draw on Annemarie Mol’s concept of diagnosis as assemblage and Giorgio Agamben’s concept of ‘bare life’ to analyse how writing in medicine and ethics manages the ambiguities of the new deaths. I coin the term ‘clinical necropoetics’ to convey how Gothic imagery, intertextualities and narrative strategies are marshalled to variously express uncertainty or unease or, by contrast, to manage doubt and normalise. Gothic facilitates contradictory meanings, communicating troubling affects and conceptual ambiguity, or eliding these very things. Gothic representations may ‘give a voice to the silenced dead’, in the words of Sarah Webster Goodwin and Elisabeth Bronfen, imbuing a dead body with social meaning. At the same time, Gothic can be part of a process of silencing the dead, reducing the dangerous superfluity of meanings that such bodies may bear.