Nature has been a huge influence in literature starting in the late 1700’s with the introduction of the romantic era. As years went on, more eras were introduced such as realism, naturalism and modernism. Authors from various countries used these eras as influences for their writing with nature being a symbolic tool to express a feeling or a hidden meaning behind what was written.
Throughout the span of the 18th, 19th and 20st centuries nature has been a symbolic feature for many American and British authors. However, many people think that nature is used as an influence sporadically throughout literature 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 nature’s artifacts gradually decline within literature over the years. This is important because it shows that influences within literature change as society continually develops.
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 the first artifact within my gallery, The Romantics, viewers can see 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 period was due to the expansion of urbanization. Many writers were disturbed by society’s separation from a more natural rhythm. In other words, during this time period, society started to become more fast paced and industrial versus relying on nature as a key element to the way of life. Authors and poets were disturbed by this change in society, people began to rely on clocks which made life more fast paced and society began to use 7 – 10 year old children to do dirty labor such as cleaning chimneys; life was no longer simple or nature based. Due to this disturbing change, authors and poets alike, began a “movement” within their writing by sharing their concerns for the world and expressing an extreme amount of respect for nature, which inevitably created the romantic era.
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 way of life. 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, readers can see that nature plays a significant role in both novels. Within the Scarlet Letter, it is evident that nature is an influence throughout the tale based on various scenes which Hawthorne sets in the forest. Artifact 9, includes a data visualization to show the 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 such as Alice’s posies set between two gables. The posies within his tale are used as a symbol for hope and love throughout the story, which ultimately shows that Hawthorne was inspired by the positive/loving idea of nature that supports the beliefs that many authors and poets had of nature doing the romantic time period.
Another author that used the urbanization disturbances within society during the influential romantic time period to make a significant work of literature was William Wordsworth. Wordsworth created Tintern Abbey to explain his changed view on nature. Throughout the poem he personifies nature and holds nature to the upmost respect by only mentioning positive qualities that nature has brought to him, which illustrates the highly respected standard that many authors and poets had of nature during the romantic time period.
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 believe, are 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 more realistic belief on life. Shortly after the idea of realism was introduced, naturalism was introduced as well and was used as an influence of literature 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, this idea 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 and destruction, reform movements, new ways of thinking, etc. Gallery artifact 4, contains further information, informing viewers on how each of these influences changed authors and poet’s ways of thinking. Although new influences were introduced to authors and poets alike during this time period, many writers continued to use nature within their writing. Viewers can see, through looking back 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. This is because writers and poets continued to use nature in smaller/different ways as these influential eras were continuously introduced.
A great example of the use of nature during this time period would be Thomas Hardy’s Bullfinches poem (gallery artifact 3). Throughout the poem, Hardy uses bullfinches to share their naturalistic viewpoint on mother nature, which is the idea that mother nature does not protect her “children” against nature’s harsh ways ie storms. By incorporating these nature elements in his poem and writing the piece from a bullfinch’s point of view, Hardy is not only adapting to the realism/naturalism era within his writing but he is also including the romantic idea of nature elements. By doing this, Hardy inevitably proves to readers that nature can still be an element in writing even during a period of influential changes.
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 again in popularity, 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 wanted to steer further away from the typical ways of writing. Many writers experimented with different ways of writing poetry and prose fiction, coming up with new ways to use symbolism and leave the interpretation of their work up to their readers.
Throughout this time period and into today, nature was not a common use for symbolism. Instead, popular writers such as Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and more, used different approaches and symbols to create their pieces. An example of this would be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s use of different colors as symbols throughout his novel The Great Gatsby. Throughout his novel, Fitzgerald uses symbols such as white, the green light, Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes and more to represent hope, purity, sickness, death, etc. By doing this, Fitzgerald left his novel open to interpretation and expanded beyond the traditional idea of romantic symbolism.
When looking at gallery artifact 6, viewers can see 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 this series to the romantic era of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter and House of Seven Gables, it is evident that the use of nature has declined from the 18th century to the 21st century. The use of nature is obvious in both of Hawthorne’s novels, using elements of nature to symbolize various characteristics of the story, where as Rowling’s novels touch on unworldly elements of magic, which inevitably supports the idea of expansion within the modernism and post modernism time period.
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 symbolic feature for their works, in hopes that readers would rely on nature for ways of living versus the urbanization that was introduced during this time period. As years went on writers began to lean towards a realistic way of writing, due to the several changes that occurred within society at this time which began to influence society’s way of thinking. Readers today can see through their reading as well as the graphs I have provided, that famous works of modernism and post modernism literature vary in influential factors compared to romantic works of literature. Although the use of nature within literature did not abruptly end at the end of the romantic era, it did significantly decline as new ideas and influences were introduced to writers in the following centuries.