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.
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.