The Pastoral Trope and Its Influence on Man-Made Spaces

For my final project I wrote an essay about the pastoral trope. I’ve always been interested in how common themes are spread and I liked how pretty much everything we discussed in class could be brought back to the pastoral. I researched the beginnings of the trope and how literary pastoral inspired landscape architects like Olmsted. Parts of my essay focuses on Glen A. Love’s writings in Practical Ecocriticism: Literature, Biology, and the Environment, as well as the pastoral trope and Yosemite. I’ve made a slideshow to go along with it and I’ll be showing a video of people in a time lapse in Yosemite.





Leo Marx on the Lackawanna Valley

Apologies for the late posting of this chapter.  Read as much of it as you can before tomorrow’s class. We’ll be talking about it in tandem with George Inness’s Lackawanna Valley.

George Inness, The Lackawanna Valley, 1855

Leo Marx, “The Machine,” from his book,The Machine in the Garden.  Please note that the file size of this .PDF is huge, so it will take a while to download. My apologies, again.

The Lackawanna Valley is one of my favorite paintings of all time.  Like Gast’s American ProgressThe Lackawanna Valley straddles the territory between art and propaganda.  It was commissioned as an advertisement for several railroad companies.  As you read Marx’s chapter and look at this painting, think about it’s role in an emerging 19th century American industrial culture.  What pastoral tropes are represented here, and how?  What is this painting’s attitude toward technology?

Think about the visual trope of the man reclining on the hill in The Lackawanna Valley in comparison with visual representations of Virgil’s Eclogues.  An example is Samuel Palmer’s Till Vespers Bade the Swain (1879).

How Lush and Lusty the Grass Looks! Wonder and the Colonial Experience in America

One of the tropes we’re looking at in class this week is the experience of wonder.  Especially, we are concerned with colonial wonder, or the experience of confronting a landscape that represents many new possibilities:  the chance to start over, the change for rejuvenation and redemption, and the opportunity to set up a society according to new rules.  Wonder is an underlying current that has always shaped American attitudes toward the landscape, yet these attitudes began in Europe.  One of the best scenes of this dynamic is in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Shakespeare dramatizes the anxiousness about the human role in nature with a comical interludeThe recently-shipwrecked party–Gonzalo, Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, and two of their lords–appear in “[a]nother part of the island,” separate from Prospero and Miranda, and are immediately confronted with conflicting sensations about their new environs.  Continue reading

What is Pastoral?

Note:  This post is based on a free-form article that I wrote previously for another class I was teaching.  I’ve adapted it a little to fit our discussion of the National Parks.


Nicolas Poussin – Et in Arcadia Ego (1647)

In addition to wilderness, wonder, and picturesque, one of the tropes we’ll talk about in class next week that shapes the way we think about the national parks is the literary pastoral.  What is pastoral and why should people study it or have discussions about it?  The simple answer to this question is that pastoral has a great deal to do with how Europeans and later Americans formed ideas about living in the world.

In Ecocriticism, Greg Garrad writes of pastoral that “No other trope is so deeply entrenched in Western culture, or so deeply problematic for environmentalism.”  Pastoral influences many aspects of our culture, so in this class on the National Parks and the American imagination, we will try to understand the flexibility and purposes of pastoral representations in literature and art as thoroughly as possible. Continue reading