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.
The conclusion turns a critical lens on the academic periodisation of
‘medieval’ and ‘early modern’ performance forms and the supersessionary
models of theatre they produce. First, it extends discussions of subjective
experiences of time to focus on a play’s spectators. It identifies in the
York Fall of the Angels a contract of temporal double-think required from
audience members who knew and anticipated a play’s plot, yet were
simultaneously engaged with the ‘now’ of the performance. It also examines
what happens to this God-like perspective if a play breaks this contract of
narrative anticipation. Second, it discusses an episode from the 1611
manuscript of the Cornish Gwreans an bys, in which Seth makes a conscious
effort to preserve historical knowledge for future generations by burying
books. It argues that this apocryphal episode is not merely an act of
pleasurable nostalgia: it operates as an act of resistance towards
consigning the popular stories of the old faith to the past.
Fantasies of supersession and explosive questions in the York and Chester
This chapter argues that the dramatisation of the Flood in the York and
Chester plays complicates questions of supersession and typology further by
demonstrating that the conflict between Noah and his wife lies in their
opposing conceptions of time. Engaging with medieval theories concerning
annihilation and renewal as well as more recent works on temporal collapse
and explosiveness, it finds that, while Noah adheres to a supersessionary
understanding of the Flood which demands a full erasure of the past in order
to begin the world anew, his wife engages with models that command the
explosive ability to recall the past into the present. Tracking the history
of the rebellious wife figure to its earliest versions in European
manuscript illumination as well as in Jewish and Muslim folklore, this
chapter argues that, when placed on the medieval pageant, the disobedience
legend moves beyond its frequent assignment within the problematic medieval
trope of the ‘unruly woman’. Where Noah seeks to re-assert distance between
past and present, Noah’s wife and her gossips collapse times into