Charlotte Smith and the idea of dependence in nature

Hunt, Ian. 2019. 'Charlotte Smith and the idea of dependence in nature'. In: Nature Writing's Future Pasts: the Land Lines Conference. School of English, University of Leeds, United Kingdom 28 February - 1 March 2019. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

(From my proposal) 'I propose a paper on the poems and educational books of Charlotte Smith (1749-1806) as they touch on natural history, especially in hybrid works such as Conversations introducing poetry: chiefly on subjects of natural history for the use of children and young persons (1804). Smith thought her poetry the most important part of her work. She has not received enough consideration as a poet, before John Clare, who wrote closely from observation and also from a developing understanding of botany, birds, animals, insects and geology. (Her poem about swifts notes that they are eating wind-blown spiders.) With Gilbert White, she is part of a moment when scientific thinking about nature was expanding towards new areas of speculation. Smith’s educational books, using the form of expanded commentary on poems, allow her free-ranging thinking and observation full scope. While she still finds morality and metaphors in nature, she expands their range. Her strong sympathy for outcasts and exiles, shown best in her long poem ‘The Emigrants’, is developed, in poems such as ‘The Heath’, into a morality of nature that looks sympathetically at the position of a parasitic plant, dodder, that lives on gorse. I would include a close reading of this poem at the heart of my presentation, and relate Smith’s own account of dependence (not mutualism) in nature to her strong feminist critique of the family and of patriarchy. Her writing is of acute interest, in this period, in that her perceptions were based on far more facts, details and science than most poets had at their disposal.'

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Additional Information:

This was the first academic conference to be held on the subject of Nature Writing.


Charlotte Smith (1749-1806), natural history, poetry, educational books

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1 March 2019Completed

Event Location:

School of English, University of Leeds, United Kingdom

Date range:

28 February - 1 March 2019

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Date Deposited:

23 Jul 2020 08:25

Last Modified:

23 Jul 2020 08:25


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