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Mid-century public libraries legislation in Britain was directed mostly at the use of modern books, but some of the larger libraries also built up substantial collections of early books. Special efforts were made by some to collect local literature of all kinds, as awareness grew also of the importance of the mass of published ephemera that underpinned social activity.
Chapter 1 reveals the complexity and self-consciousness of Romantic nature writing, bringing together authors who share an interest in nonhuman nature as a dynamic process. It also addresses the porousness of Romantic nature writing as a mode of engagement across different kinds of texts. A key claim is that, while Gilbert White’s localism and close field observations were influential on later nature writing, so was the strand of confessional autobiography pioneered by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Romantic nature writing is often represented as a self-aggrandising masculine mode. But women writers such as Dorothy Wordsworth and Charlotte Smith were significant, particularly in their portrayals of nonhuman nature as entangled with everyday human life. The chapter also addresses labouring-class writers, bringing John Clare’s natural history prose into dialogue with the work of the artist Thomas Bewick and the novelist and poet James Hogg. All three resisted and lamented the forces of modernisation, but did so through developing innovative modes of representation. Even at its most backward-looking, Romantic nature writing engaged with the contradictions and conflicts of modernity. And, while influenced by natural theology, it also dared to speculate about deep time and the transience of human species.
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