Qualities of nature have been used as an extensive influence in literature beginning in the late 1700’s with the introduction of the romantic era. As years passed, various literature eras were introduced such as realism, naturalism, and modernism. Authors and poets from several different countries used popular qualities of nature within these eras of literature to inspire their writing and create some of the best written works yet. However, due to the changing eras of literature, one of the most popular influences within writing has slowly faded in the literature world.

Throughout the span of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, nature has been a symbolic feature for many American and British authors. However, several people believe that nature is used as an influence sporadically throughout written pieces from the late 1700’s to present day. By counting the frequencies of various nature related influences in a corpus of English novels and poems, we can see that the use of nature and qualities of nature gradually decline within literature over the years. This is important because it proves that as society gradually changes and develops, writers are influenced to change and develop their style of writing along with the times.  

During the late 18th and early to mid-19th century, literature was exposed to the romantic era. This era within the literature world influenced the works of many authors and poets. Upon watching artifact one within my gallery, The Romantics, it is evident that the change in times inspired many writers to use nature within their creations. The reason why nature was a huge influence during this time was due to the expansion of urbanization. Many writers were disturbed by society’s separation from a natural rhythm of life. During this era, society separated itself from the natural flow of life by focusing on a more fast paced and industrial lifestyle which was considerably different, compared to their previous lifestyle of a vast reliance on nature for many ways of living. Authors and poets were significantly disturbed by this change; people began to rely on clocks which made life structural and fast paced. Society also began to use 7 – 10-year-old children to do dirty labor such as cleaning chimneys which was thought to be inhumane by many writers; life was no longer simple in their eyes. Due to this disturbing change, authors and poets alike, began to express their feelings of concern and dislike for the changes within society which consequently led to an expression of extreme respect for nature within their work. By authors and poets portraying these emotions and thoughts through their work, they inevitably created and contributed to the romantic era of literature.  

Many famous authors and poets such as William Blake, Nathanial Hawthorne, Mary Shelly, William Wordsworth and more began to write influential pieces in hopes that there would be a change in society; one that would move away from the ideas of the new ways of living. In fact, Nathanial Hawthorne and William Wordsworth created significant works of literature which are still studied today.

After reading Nathanial Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter (gallery artifact 8) and House of Seven Gables, it is clear that Hawthorne used nature as a significant component within both novels. It is evident that, within the Scarlet Letter, nature is used as a source for symbolism and setting, to create a safe space for Hester and Pearl.

“What a strange, sad man is he!’ said the child, as if speaking partly to herself. ‘In the dark night-time, he calls us to him, and holds thy hand and mine, as when we stood with him on the scaffold yonder! And in the deep forest, where only the old trees can hear, and the strip of sky see it, he talks with thee, sitting on a heap of moss! And he kisses my forehead, too, that the little brook would hardly wash it off! But here in the sunny day, and among all the people, he knows us not; nor must we know him! A strange, sad man is he, with his hand always over his heart!” (Hawthorne, 210)

This quote from chapter 21 is just one of the many uses of nature that Hawthorne used throughout his novel. It is clear, based off of Pearl’s explanation, that the forest and elements of nature are a safe place to express the true feelings and truth behind Pearl and her parents. Whereas during the day, while being exposed to society in day light, an expression of love between the characters is not allowed. Artifact 9, includes a data visualization to show the exact amount of times that elements of nature are mentioned throughout the tale. Upon interacting with the data visual, it is clear the words “nature” and “forest” are among the most used nature-words throughout the novel. Hawthorne also uses elements of nature within the House of Seven Gables novel. The main element of nature within this novel is Alice’s posies that are set between two gables of the house. Hawthorne uses the posies within his tale, as a symbol for hope and love throughout the story, as well as an end to the wretched curse. By looking at these two examples alone, it is apparent that Hawthorne used elements of nature to express a hidden feeling of love and comfort for his characters; which ultimately supports the beliefs that many authors and poets had of nature during the romantic time period.

Another author that used the urbanization disturbances within society during the influential romantic period was William Wordsworth. Wordsworth created Tintern Abbey to explain his changed view on nature. Throughout the beginning of the poem, he personifies nature and holds nature to the upmost respect by mentioning positive qualities that nature has brought to him:

“For nature then (The coarser pleasures of my boyish days

And their glad animal movements all gone by)  
To me was all in all.—I cannot paint
What then I was. The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, not any interest
Unborrowed from the eye.” (Wordsworth, 1)

It is apparent that Wordsworth illustrates nature, within this quote, as a highly respected source, one in which he associated a feeling of love and happiness. By correlating these feelings with nature, Wordsworth contributed to the thematic standard that many authors and poets held of nature during the romantic era.

About half-way through the 19th century and into the 20th century, writers began to steer away from the idea of romanticism. In gallery artifact 7, I put together four of, what I have seen to be, the most used nature words throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. If you were to look at the years 1850-1875, you can see that there is a decline in each of the four words used: nature, water, flower, and dove.

This is due to the introduction of Realism, which is placed on the timeline in gallery artifact 5. The era of Realism began the literary movement towards a realistic belief on qualities of life. Shortly after the idea of realism was introduced, naturalism surfaced and was used as an influence on writing styles until about the 1930’s. Naturalism was the era of ideas and beliefs in which everything that occurred was natural and followed natural laws meaning that everything happened for a reason, however, the belief specifically excluded anything spiritual.

These two eras influenced writers alike to adapt and focus on the major changes occurring in their surrounding environment, ie the growth of industrialization, modern death/destruction, reform movements, new ways of thinking, etc. Gallery artifact 4, contains further information, explaining how each of these influences changed authors and poet’s ways of thinking. Although new influences were introduced to authors and poets during this time, many writers continued to use nature within their writing. It is apparent from looking at gallery artifact 7, that there is an overall decline in the use of common nature words following the year 1850. However, there are humps of increased word use throughout the following decades of 1850. Although writers and poets continued to adapt to these new eras of writing, they incorporated smaller/different ways of using nature.

A great example of the use of nature during this period of literature would be Thomas Hardy’s Bullfinches poem (gallery artifact 3). Throughout the poem, Hardy uses bullfinches to share their naturalistic viewpoint on mother nature. To do this, Hardy incorporates a realistic viewpoint in which the birds acknowledge that they must fend for themselves when it comes to nature’s harsh ways because, realistically, mother nature will not protect them.

“Yet she never knows endeavor

To Protect from warrings wild

Bird or beast she calls her child.” (Hardy, 1)

 By incorporating these realistic elements of nature within his poem, from a bullfinches’ point of view, Hardy not only shows his adaptation to the realistic/naturalistic style of writing, but he continues to contribute to romanticism by including elements of nature. By doing this, Hardy inevitably proves to readers that nature can continue to be an element in writing but in a different/smaller way.

Moving through the 20th and 21st centuries, it is evident from looking at gallery artifact 7, that the use of common nature words continually declined, while the word “nature” itself began to rise in the following decades of 1930. Although the word “nature” slightly rose in popularity again, nature words such as “water, dove and flower” continued to gradually decline as literature adapted to yet another change. During the time span of the 20th and 21st centuries, Modernism and Post Modernism were introduced (re. gallery artifact 5). These beliefs introduced another era of change to literature, except in this era many authors and poets decided to steer further away from the typical elements within writing. Many writers experimented with divergent ways of writing by coming up with new measures on how to incorporate the use of symbolism and leave their work open to interpretation.

Throughout this duration of time and into today, nature was not commonly used for symbolism. Instead, popular writers such as Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and more, used abstract approaches and symbols to create their pieces. In one of his most famous novels, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald used the popular techniques of abstract thinking and open interpretation by using different colors as symbols.

“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.” (Fitzgerald, 1)

Fitzgerald uses the colors of green and blue within this quote to not only describe the lawn and light, but structure them as symbols throughout his novel for readers to dissect and interpret. Fitzgerald goes even further from previous normalities of the use of nature elements by using Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes to represent God’s eyes; the eyes that see everything. Due to the different use of symbols within his book, it is evident that Fitzgerald not only leaves his novel open to interpretation for readers but he supported the expansion from the traditional idea of romantic symbolism to a new and different style of writing known as modernism.

When looking at gallery artifact 6, it becomes apparent that some of the most popular books of the modernism and post modernism eras are among J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. By comparing the popular series of today to the popular romantic era novel, the Scarlet Letter, it is evident that the use of nature has declined from the 18th century to the 21st century. The use of nature is quite obvious in Hawthorne’s novel. It supports the popular belief of the romantic time in that nature is held to a higher standard with almost god-like qualities. Whereas in the J.K. Rowling novels, nature is not a main element of the stories. Instead the main qualities are sorcery and magic which support the modernist out-of-box thinking and expanding from the average romantic use of symbolism.

Throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries many influential time periods have occurred within the literary genre of creativity. Starting in the late 18th century to early 19th century, many writers used nature as a vast quality within their works. Writers continually used nature in hopes that their readers would rely on nature for living purposes versus the urbanization that was beginning to surface. As years went on, writers began to lean towards a realistic way of writing, due to the several changes that continued to occur within society which influenced many people’s ways of thinking. Today it is transparent through various readings of the books mentioned above and the graphs presented, that famous works of modern and post-modern literature vary in influential factors. Whereas, nature elements are a consistent influential factor for many writers of the romantic period. Although the use of nature within literature did not abruptly end at the closing of the romantic era, it did significantly decline as new ideas and influences were introduced to writers in the following centuries.

Works Cited

“The Romantics- Nature (BBC Documentary).” YouTube, uploaded by Philosophical Mindz 5 April 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liVQ21KZfOI

Eaton, Lance. “Trends and Influences on American Literature in the Early 20th Century.” YouTube, uploaded by Lance Eaton 2 Oct 2014,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TF4NhdlqThc

Fitzgerald, Scott F. The Great Gatsby. 1925. Frances Scott Fitzgerald Lanahan, 1953.

Hardy, Thomas. The Bullfinches. 2019. Public Domain, Professor Deborah Spillman.

Hawthorne, Nathanial. The House of The Seven Gables. 1851. Modern Library Edition, 2001.

Hawthorne, Nathanial. The Scarlet Letter. 1900. Toronto: G.N. Morang.

Wordsworth, William. “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798” Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45527/lines-composed-a-few-miles-above-tintern-abbey-on-revisiting-the-banks-of-the-wye-during-a-tour-july-13-1798

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